The other epidemic

This post was written 2 months ago.
Thu, 03 Jun 2021
Starting this post, I am wondering to what extent this is going to be personal, and whether the title is fitting. It is a personal topic, but if I have learned anything in the past few years, it is how widespread this dis-ease is. I am talking here about a range of complaints, with a common denominator, a maladjustment to the circumstances you live in, the difficulty to adapt to them and — this is the crux — the recurring deep unease, discomfort and often profound suffering this brings.

Eleven years ago, Brené Brown gave one of the most-viewed TED talks of all times, The power of vulnerability. It was eye-opening and made a huge impression on me. There is one particular statement that I have often come back to: "We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history." If this is true for the U.S., the rest of the Western world won't be far behind. Think about it for a moment. How did we get there? What does it mean? What degree of unhappiness and imbalance lies behind this statement? It was just as valid ten years later, and in the midst of the Covid crisis it became clear that this state of things did not help at all. Very likely, and further fueled by the intentional fear-mongering of the government, it contributed to turning a managable problem into an ongoing, seemingly never-ending, perceived emergency.

There is a few things to distinguish here. Mental health issues per se, which will always show up, in any population. But then, how much are they brought on by the environment, and also, how are they being dealt with? What Brené Brown described are the results of coping strategies. I am sure there is a big part of the population that is doing just fine, not everybody is unhappy, not everybody is struggling to adapt. In fact, what keeps astounding me in this crisis is how able and willing people are to adjust to all kinds of measures that to me seem absurd and really restrictive and intrusive — with some outright damaging. Then there is a part that is struggling, but numbing themselves. And then there's the part that is on a constant roller coaster.

I am one of the fairground junkies, and this morning, soon after waking up, I had excessive levels of cortisol running through my veins, and I plunged into despair. Then I cried, and then I started talking to my husband for absolutely ages, about all that was bothering me. I cannot always do that, I cannot always pinpoint what is wrong. This time, it was a whole barrage of things, and the ongoing outrageous pushing through of lies, half-truths and completely inappropriate measures (looking at vaccination of children here in particular) on part of our government played its part in it. It was not all though. There are the things that had been there before the crisis, sometimes managable, but cropping up again and again. Most notably, the lack of confidence and the belief that I was just not able to make proper progress with things, especially my programming skills, but really anything, and therefore being of limited use to people.

What was astounding this morning was just how much the talking helped. It was serendipitous, just the right balance of talking, the right kind of listening and interjections by my husband. I guess good therapists create circumstances where conversations like this become likely. In any case, I believe the response from somebody close, or sometimes even not so close, combined with taking the right care of yourself, is so important in a crises like this.

I have to acknowledge that I am in an extremely fortunate position, I don't have to work at the moment, this week the whole family is on holiday in fact (but staying at home), I am not lacking in anything. The bouts of depression come from inside, from my conditioning and from an unproductive, frustrating railing against the current societal situation, feelings of helplesness and a seeming inability to change anything.

I am interested in learning to challenge and overcome this, and then to help others do it too. I am re-reading the book I found most helpful in this, "Undoing Depression" by Richard O'Connor.

As always, there is so much more to write, and on so many more topics. But for now, good night.

Hashtags of Refusal

This post was written 3 months ago.
Fri, 30 Apr 2021
Today I have been in Germany for two weeks. When I arrived, the UK was a risk area, within two days from my arrival that classification was dropped.

But what was happening in Germany was more important. On Wednesday April 21, a new law was passed, an update to the so-called infection protection law (Infektionsschutzgesetz), or “emergency brake” (Notbremse). The bewilderment this law has left me with, is hard to put into words. The latest in a series of attacks on fundamental rights, it demolishes people's freedom in ways that nothing has come close to in the history of the federal republic. And in fact, much of federalism is suspended for the duration of the epidemic situation of national concern (epidemische Lage nationaler Tragweite).

The law pretends to be rooted in science, but this science is complete bollocks. Since the beginning of the crisis, Germans have been looking at the Inzidenzwert, which simply means the number of positive corona PCR tests per 100 000 inhabitants, within a week. This is an absolute number, not the ratio of positive tests per total. If you test more you will get more incidences, if you have a low prevelance of the disease in the population, almost all positives will be false positives.

Now, the law says this — and it applies nationwide: When in a region the incidence is above 100, a curfew will be placed on this region each night from 10pm to 5am — but you are allowed to go jogging till midnight, but only on your own, hahah, how generous. Also, during the day you can only meet up with one person from a different household. Hospitality is closed, all cultural live is shut down (cinema, theatre, concerts), no team sports allowed. Schools close when the incidence is above 165.

The parliament approved, and a sizeable part of the population seems to agree with these regulations, something I just do not understand. — Though I am having my doubts whether this part of the population is as big as government and media want to make us believe.

The day after the law was passed, something great happened. A number of Germany's most revered and popular actors plus some less well-known ones, 53 altogether, published short Youtube videos. In these videos, they were using satire to highlight the plight of people affected by the lockdown, the disproportionateness of the measures, and the ceaseless alarmist reporting by the media. Artists had been so quiet up till then, and finally they were daring to object. They used the hashtag #allesdichtmachen — shut everything down. The pieces were really well-written and beautifully produced and acted. They will be the perfect documentation of this crazy time. And they hit home.

They hit home so much that the powers that be had to immediately raise hell and hit back with a cacaphony of angry and outraged voices. How could they? The actors were serving the narratives of the far right!! (never mind they were clearly mostly left-leaning people; funnily, two of the videos had addressed exactly this topic — people being accused of “receiving applause from the wrong side”). How disgusting! Apparently, they were making fun of people working in intensive care (no reference to that whatsoever in the videos), the victims of the pandemic, and people who were scared. A veritable shitstorm broke loose on Twitter and an official of a broadcast channel called for the actors not to be given any roles anymore, then later deleted the tweet. Some of the actors were threatened and in the end a number of them withdrew their videos. By now, there are just 29 left.

This is called freedom of speech. This is called artistic freedom. This is called a democracy.

What has happened to my country? What has happened to the world?

I will not make it a secret anymore how opposed I am to all this shit, and how little I believe in the official narrative. This has reached levels that would be comical if it wasn't so serious.

There is another hashtag that precedes #allesdichtmachen, and I had wanted to write about it for a bit.

It originated from a video published by philosoper, writer and youtuber Gunnar Kaiser. Until recently he had been working as a teacher, but when after the Easter holidays, pupils were forced to test themselves twice a week at school for Covid (and then, even when negative, still had to wear masks; when positive had to be immediately isolated, which would likely fill them with shame), he decided to quit. In the video he repeatedly says, “I am not taking part in this”, “Ich mach da nicht mit”. Other people picked it up and gave their reasons for not taking part anymore (and the not taking part could refer to different things, but was usually to do with the rules around Covid), so it became the hashtag #ichmachdanichtmit. There are many many brilliant Youtube and Instagram videos, and texts.

This will be a first, I am going to write in German on this blog. I have been meaning to do my own version of #ichmachdanichtmit for a while.


#ichmachdanichtmit

Ich mach da nicht mit. Ich weigere mich. Ich sage Nein.

Ich mach da nicht mit. Ich lasse mich nicht in Angst versetzten von verzerrten, überzogenen und teils manipulierten Medienberichten. Ich lasse mich nicht beunruhigen von diesem Dauerbombardement mit Horror-Geschichten.

Ich sage Nein zu einer Wissenschaft, die keine Wissenschaft mehr ist, sondern Religion. Denn was anderes ist eine Wissenschaft der man den Diskurs nimmt? Eine Wissenschaft, bei der man vielen ihrer angesehensten, verdientesten Mitglieder die Teilnahme an der Diskussion versagt. Und nicht nur das, sie werden diffamiert und mit angeblichen “Faktenchecks” diskreditiert, die so unhaltbar sind, dass es zum Himmel schreit.

Ich sage Nein zu den Hohepriestern und ihrer Gefolgschaft, die angebliche wissenschaftliche Wahrheiten verkünden, welche auf zweifelhaften und niemals vorher so eingesetzten Mitteln der Diagnostik und Datenerhebung basieren.

Ich mach da nicht mit. Ich werde niemals glauben, dass es Kindern nichts ausmacht im Unterricht Masken zu tragen, nur weil man mir sagt “die Kinder machen das total gut mit, sie machen es besser als ich”. Ich werde niemals verstehen, wie diese Maßnahme so schnell, ohne wirkliche Prüfung, ohne wirkliche Evidenz ihres Nutzens und ihrer Schadlosigkeit umgesetzt werden konnte, und dass es so wenig Widerstand dagegen gab. Ich werde nie glauben, dass davon kein Schaden ausgeht.

Ich mach da nicht mit. Ich werde niemals akzeptieren dass die Lockdowns in dieser Krise ein adäquates Mittel gewesen sein sollen das Virus einzudämmen, während es genug weniger destruktive Gegenvorschläge gab, einschließlich der Empfehlungen der WHO zur Eindämmung von Grippe-Edpidemien. Ich werde niemals glauben, dass der Nutzen von Lockdowns auch nur annähernd den Schaden aufwiegt, der dadurch verursacht wurde.

Ich sage Nein zu einer Strategie, die nur auf das Überleben abziehlt, aber dabei das Leben verneint.

Ich sage Nein zu einem Leben ohne Kunst, ohne Live-Musik, ohne Theater und spontane Versammlungen von Menschen.

Ich sage Nein zu einem Umbau der Gesellschaft, der vordergründig mehr Sicherheit und Bequemlichkeit bietet. Aber “wer für die Sicherheit die Freiheit aufgibt, verliert am Ende beides”.

Ich sage Nein zu einer experimentellen gen-basierten Impfung, die jetzt schon ihre Gefährlichkeit zeigt, und auf der trotzdem weiter beharrt wird, und die Bedingung für den Zugang zu bestimmten Leistungen werden soll.

Ich mach da nicht mit. Ich sage Nein zu psychologischer Manipulation, zum Schüren von Angst im Namen der Besorgnis dass die Menschen sonst nicht “das Richtige tun”, nicht gehorchen.

Ich sage Ja zum Ungehorsam in einem kranken System.
Ich sage Ja zum Hören und Anhören von verschiedenen Meinungen.
Ich sage Ja zur eigenen Mündigkeit und zu einem möglichst selbstbestimmten Leben.
Ich sage Ja zu Fröhlichkeit, Humor, Mitgefühl und Freundlichkeit, Liebe zum Leben und zu den Menschen.

Nachtrag: Dies ist spontan heruntergeschrieben, ich denke es ist ein Ausgangspunkt, auch um zu konstruktiven Beiträgen in dieser Krise zu kommen — hoffentlich demnächst auch auf diesem Blog. Aber zu wissen wo man nicht hinwill ist auch wichtig.

The forever lockdown

This post was written 5 months ago.
Sat, 13 Feb 2021
I started to write this text in the Christmas holidays. It has proved very difficult to finish, let alone publish it. I think this is due to how much the issue has been politicised and become emotionally charged (something we have seen all too much in recent years with other topics).

A curious thing: While I am locked down in the UK, I have been ‘locked into’ the discussion in Germany, and other German-speaking countries, much more than here. Maybe it is there where I see the most discrepancy between the problem at hand, the virus, and the political response. There is a holding on to the hard lockdown, changes in law in the wake of it, and a supression of dissenting voices that astounds me. I have friends in the country who feel the same way. At some point it becomes difficult to still believe in good intentions.

 

In recent phone calls with my sister, we have been talking a lot about the current virus-induced crisis. We try to not let the topic dominate the whole conversation, but it can be difficult to find any areas of our lives that are not affected by it. Fortunately, we can talk completely factually and without animosity. We both simply want to make sense of what is happening and exchange our thoughts.

I am the one who consumes far more information on it and then pass on things that stood out for me. My sister is the one who actually had Covid. She caught it while in a care facility, recovering from a horrible car accident that she and my mum were involved in with no fault of their own. On top of the illness itself which took the course of a bad cold, once tested positive she had to stay in isolation for six days (transport home could not be arranged earlier), not allowed to leave her room even for walks, food brought in three times a day, no social contact otherwise. She arrived home in a taxi, the driver wearing PPE, and her suitcase laminated. Then of course she had to self-isolate more, but compared to the clinic her small appartment seemed “a palace”.

This is about how I have perceived the C-19 crisis, especially after spending three weeks in Germany in September, following the accident mentioned above. Something flipped during that time. And since then there's a tension between what I am told is the morally right thing to believe and follow, and the many misgivings I have about the political decisions and rhetoric around the virus. And here it is especially the German (and the regional Bavarian) government that I have developed the most distrust in.

If I had to pin it to one particular moment, it was when I became aware of children having to wear masks during class, and how quickly this decision was made, without much evidence of its necessity or usefulness. For me and other parents, doctors among them, this is a horrible idea, still I had to learn that we are a minority.

Masks don't help, do help, never harm

My family, like almost everybody else I know, had got well through the four months of lockdown and restrictions. Some aspects had been enjoyable even. Long walks and bike rides, the excitement of a trip to the Forest of Dean, after 9 weeks of the car sitting unused.

News regarding the pandemic had gradually got better. From end of March, the numbers of deaths dropped. Efforts to develop a vaccine had started. I saw a tweet about Czech people sewing masks for everybody, alongside a report that masks could actually make a difference — in contrast to the previous message so frequently repeated: A mask won't help you. Now the news was, it can help others. We can help each other. That sounded great. Several weeks later Austria, then Germany, made wearing masks in shops mandatory. Britain eventually followed. Overall, restrictions were eased.

But then — this must have been in July — there was some news around masks that stunned me. In Germany, some schools were reopening again. And in some, school children would have to wear masks during the entirety of the lessons.

When in Germany, I heard some personal accounts where it looked like only older children had to wear masks, and only for 9 days at the start of the school year. But after the autumn half-term it included primary children, for an indefinite time, based on a completely arbitrary value of 50 new positive cases per 100 000 a week.

A bit later I read about pupils having to wear masks during P.E., even outside. My brother confirmed this, a colleague had a daughter that had to play basketball with a mask on. “Every now and then they can have a break to catch breath. — It's sickening.”

drawing of kids playing, now wrong
What used to be things kids do, is now… FALSCH — wrong
 

Around that time I noticed a friend's WhatsApp statuses where she was posting links that were full-on about how the measures were wrong and the danger from the virus exaggerated. One day a photo from a protest march in Berlin popped up. Had she been there? Woah, hang on, she is with those people who are against measures and against wearing masks? I also thought some of the links were quite dubious.

Scientific misfits

Then I learned about Sucharit Bhakdi, a professor and medical doctor specialised in microbiology and infection epidemiology who had been head of the Microbiology department at Uni Mainz for 20 years. Bhakdi wrote an open letter with five questions to Angela Merkel, which he also posted as a video on his (now deleted) Youtube channel. Bhakdi also wrote a book called Corona Fehlalarm? (published in English on 2 Octobre 2020 as Corona False Alarm?), together with his wife, herself a professor and cell biologist.

Whatever you might think of their conclusions, you can't deny the two a profound subject knowledge, and there is a lot of useful information in it. It is also clear that this was a personal matter to them.

Yet Bhakdi was quickly dismissed by the German media, never invited to any talkshows (he has been appearing on an Austrian private channel, ServusTV), and even labelled a conspiracy theorist. I believe though that his questions were valid.

Other highly decorated scientists were not de facto banned, but the interviewers distanced themselves from them after the interview. This happened to Karin Mölling, a virologist and former professor and director of the Institute of Medical Virology at Zürich University, when she was interviewed by RadioEins on 14 March 2020 (German). She said there was a danger in becoming too panicked. Imagine you give an interview and then the interviewer has to publish how they find it cynical that you compared Covid deaths to other causes. I had not come across anything like that before.

Staying in Germany, another scientist worth mentionining is Hendrik Streeck, head of Virology and HIV Research at the univeristy of Bonn. He conducted a study on a population that experienced a super-spreader event quite early on. While not directly opposing the government strategy he has time and again tried to counter the over-dramatisation and suggested moving from too many restrictions to trusting in people to behave responsibly, and let businesses develop their own hygiene strategies.

In the UK and US, among those having a hard time going against the general consensus, there are the authors of the Great Barrington declaration, and in the US also Stanford professor of medicine and of epidemiology and public health, John Ioannidis. Ioannidis had been in favour of a hard lockdown as long as not much was known about the virus. His post "A fiasco in the making?" is remarkable for what he says about coronaviruses in general, “even some so-called mild or common-cold-type coronaviruses that have been known for decades can have case fatality rates as high as 8% when they infect elderly people in nursing homes. In fact, such “mild” coronaviruses infect tens of millions of people every year, and account for 3% to 11% of those hospitalized in the U.S. with lower respiratory infections each winter.” I only just read that.

reading list

What do positive PCR tests tell us?

There was going to be a whole section here on things I read about the virus, explanations on why the death toll was especially high in particular countries, the questionable treatment with toxic doses of hydroxyquinolone as part of international studies in March 2020, the possiblity of cross immunity from other coronavirus infections.

But I don't want to go down that road, it would be very lengthy and also very easy to get things wrong. The one thing that keeps coming up though and which puzzled me from early on, is the role of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.

The PCR is very good and accurate at detecting fragments of the virus, but it can't say if a person is ill or infectious, especially at the high number of cycles suggested in the original protocol. This is something that was never clarified when rising infection numbers were shown last summer. — It was also not shown how many tests had been done in total. This struck me as very unscientific. Besides that, no other pathogen has ever been tracked in this way. We don't have any comparable numbers to put it in context.

What is presented as active cases is a very inaccurate approximation of what is happening. The one sure thing you could say was that the virus was spreading. And that is something we knew quite early on, when we were told that the virus could not be contained anymore, and the goal now was to “flatten the curve”.

I am curious what will become of various intiatives that are addressing the inaccurateness, including court cases. There has been one ruling in Portugal where a positive PCR test on its own was not seen as sufficient to warrant quarantine.

So much has been hinging on this PCR test. How many people have been sent into quarantine for nothing, how many scare stories beamed into living rooms and minds daily, —record daily number of new infections” and so on? My friend once sent me a link to a TV clip with a presenter standing in front of a map of Germany where everything was red, reading out case numbers as if they were Bundesliga scores. What do we need this kind of presentation for?

Strategy of fear

In Germany, in terms of deaths so far, it looks like the measures were justified. But if you look at how many old people had to die in isolation, how many other essential healthcare was not provided; the things that young people have been burdened with, what experiences and opportunties have been taken from them; and how many livelihoods (and lives — by suicide or stress-induced deaths and delayed or cancelled medical interventions) have been destroyed, I believe it is not so clear anymore.

There is a strange imbalance where the danger from the virus and how contagious it is, had to be painted in the worst immaginable way, but any damage from measures was a purely economical challenge and could be solved by distributing money. There even is a strategy document by the ministry for the interior that makes suggestions about how people should be made fearful. In one section it states that the infection fatality rate is not the right variable to present to people — it is too low. Instead the consequences of a worst case scenario had to be communicated in the most dramatic ways. “To achieve the desired shock effect, the concrete effects of a contamination of the population must be made clear.” A list follows: How a relative could be refused by the hospital and sent back to die a turtorous death at home. How children can become responsible for the death of a parent (!) and how people could suffer from long-term syptoms even when the main illness was over.

If you asked a doctor what would be the first thing to do when you had to break the news of a serious illness, they would probably say “You have to calm the patient down, and say something reassuring.” You would not try to make them take their medicine by scaring them to death.

But apparently with whole countries that is different. People would just not do as they are told, as friends have argued.

The way things have been managed, a significant (and possibly growing?) part of the population has been alienated. Hundreds of thousands of them came to Berlin on the 29th of August and demonstrated. And you know what, I completely understand them. I have heard so many times how irresponsible these people are, but in fact these demonstrations are happening in fresh air and the risk of infection is minimal. According to Streeck (who is not a defender of the “Querdenker” at all!) no rise of infections has been seen as consequence of this.

Imagine a government cuts down on your rights and freedom for a much longer time than initially declared, keeps making decisions just by executive power, not consulting the parliament, eventually even changes “infection protection law” in very curious ways, and nobody protests. You might be too busy with other things, but I think there is something to be said for some people actings as the country's immune system.

The right (herd) immunity

Talking of the immune system.. this was not a term you heard very often in the first 9 months of the pandemic from any government channels. The main message was to stay at home. No Vitamin D, no fresh air, no team sports or working out in a gym.

Also, while at first anybody who dared to mention herd immunity, especially the authors of the Great Barringtion declaration, was immediately villified, this term has now been rehabilitated, because now we have vaccines.

Letting infections contribute to herd immunity is not acceptable, this has to be the priority of the vaccine. The vaccine was also the only possible way out of the restrictions. It was almost as if we had to be prepared for the vaccine, it was strictly not allowed for people to risk an infection at all.

There is a whole lot one could say about the vaccine. I say “one”, but it will not be me. Even after having read/listened to a lot about the matter, I am in two minds about it (not about having a vaccine, but the rushed development). There are a lot of scientists wo are very optimistic about the vaccines (including Karin Mölling whose eyes seemed to light up when she talked about them; and she has worked on vaccine development herself, for HIV, which has so far been doomed because of the mutability of the virus).

On the other side, there is no doubt that having several phases of clinical research run in parallel is not the only reason why it was quicker. There is no long-term data, and apparently pharmacological, pre-clinical data are missing too. There have been several, again, renowned people, warning about unknown consequences. (A vaccine against Swine flu in 2009 caused cases of narcolepsy — a condition where people can be excessively sleepy during the day and fall asleep involuntarily).

I think this article by William Haseltine is worth reading as it touches many important points.

I think even people excited about the vaccine have to admit that what is happening now is pretty experimental. But maybe that is the point. There are several candidates that have been admitted already, and there are around 200 altogether.

News from Absurdistan

I had hesitated to join Telegram, mainly because WhatsApp and Slack were already grabbing too much of my attention. I am glad I did though. There's a lot of valuable information to find there, and I am quite up to date about developments in Germany and Austria. Perhaps Austria the most actually.

This is due in no small part to the channel “Corona & Psychologie”. It is run by Vienna-based pychiatrist Raphael Bonelli, who used to give tips on couple's relationships. At some point after March 2020 the focus shifted.

Bonelli has a younger side-kick called Thomas Breit who for a while did a video diary, where he started his entries with: “Dear diary, this is so future generations might see what is currently possible in Absurdistan… err… Austria” followed by reports of the latest political blunders like deciding to open ski lifts during lockdown and then being surprised they get overcrowded.

As for Bonelli himself, a term he has been using a lot is “deescalation”. That's something he wants to contribute to. In his view, there's these opposing tendencies in people: They are either Gesundheitsapostel (health preachers) or Freiheitskämpfer (freedom fighters), and they have to understand and respect their different priorities. Another thing I liked was his appeal not to moralise. That is such good advise. I'd say this is the main disease of our times — or almost all times?? — People thinking they can pass moral judgment on others. Thinking they know what is morally right.

The other day I saw an article in the Times where a professor Montgomery was quoted talking to Times Radio: “Anyone who doesn't wear their mask, they have blood on their hands. They are spreading the virus.” Erm.. excuse me. I have just spent 9 months in a more or less pronounced state of separation from almost everybody, I am pretty sure I don't have the virus, so it is already factually wrong that I am spreading it. But for you, if I dared to take my mask off, I am a… killler?
Honestly, isn't this absurd? But I am sure this is a message that is lodged into people's brains when they read it.

In a talk I heard recently, the speaker, Daniele Ganser, argued: You cannot read or hear something without it going into your brain. It's different from food where you can look at it and choose whether you want to eat it. If you read something, it goes into your brain. His appeal is “Don't believe everything you think.” which I quite like. Another thing to acknowledge is that you will always be manipulated. You can only choose who or what you want to be manipulated by.

But the facts, it is about facts! It is about science, our leaders say. We are following the science. The science. We have seen this one science and it has shown us the path. No other path is thinkable.

Irreversible change

However bad this virus is, even if you were extremely scared of it, you'd have to admit that the crisis is not just the virus. There is a crisis of communication, a crisis of trust.

I refuse to accept that a different way wouldn't have been possible. We have followed the example of China with the lockdown. It would have been unthinkable to do it that way some years back, and if I remember right the WHO used to say that lockdowns are not an appropriate means of control. Karin Mölling kept emphasising how bad a curfew would be, and that you could do it for one or two weeks maximum.

Also, the communication could have been different, a less fear-based one.

Some people I talked to seem to believe I want to deny the potential danger of the virus. But really, my concern is independent of that. It is that our fundamental rights are being eroded and that livelihoods, and lives, are being destroyed.

From when I have talked to people who agree with their government's measures , I get the impression they simply cannot believe that the government could do wrong by them (talking of the German one here; with the UK one, the complaint is usually that they did not act quickly enough, though with vaccinations it looks the other way round…). They can neither see it influenced by third party interests, nor having good intentions but getting things wrong. Instead they say “I would not like to be in their place. I am glad I don't have to make these decisions.” I am not very good at making decisions, but in this case, I think we should still have some say about how to live our lives. And contrary to those friends, I think most people can be trusted to do the right things.

I've heard two good statements about freedom recently. One is that freedom does not mean that you can do what you want but that you don't have to do what you don't want to. The other was by a comedian, Roland Düringer, saying that to him freedom had a lot to do with taking responsibility for your own life, not simply doing whatever you want. Eigenverantwortung.

Moving on

I believe it is a fallacy to think the only mistake that can be made is to do too little. That the cure could not be worse than the disease. And curiously, we might even have done too little, too. Too little to protect the elderly in nursing homes. Too little focus on other diseases but just the one.

Lockdown and vaccines seem to be the only approaches we've got.

And we seem to have opposing sides busy to prove each other wrong, with lots of snark and vitriol, rather than learning from each other. I was a target of snark when I said to a friend, one of the pillars of dealing with the virus should be to strengthen our immune systems. This is not even acceptable to say anymore apparently.

I think I generally want to hold different possibilities and explanations in my mind, and that can be difficult to understand.

The WHO declared a pandemic before, in 2009. It was about the H1N1 influenza strain, or Swine Flu. There seemed to be a rapidly growing number of cases in Mexico and then in other countries, too. A German doctor and member of parliament made his own investigations and came to the conclusion that the threat was blown out of proportion, which turned out to be true. By that time pharma companies had sold millions of anti-flu treatments and vaccines. As mentioned above, one vaccine caused cases of narcolepsy.

Now this time it is different and it is recognised that there is a pandemic going on. And still, as back then, third party interests will shape things, and I sometimes wonder if they have, even if not explicitly stated, pushed in the direction of lockdown. But I cannot know that. And of course you can argue, so what, if lockdown is the right thing to do.

I think it is not a good choice, it is like chemotherapy, but one that does not attack the tumor. The virus is not the tumor.

And yet for now I just have to let it be, I don't have a good way to fight against it, and in the end, in the given moment, it might be all we can do.

As a friend here in England said, the important thing might be to make sure afterwards it won't happen again. I hope I will be able to contribute to that.

slightly edited 24/03/2021

 

Tags: coronavirus / covid / lockdown /

Up the snakes, and down the ladders

This post was written 2 years ago.
Mon, 15 Jul 2019
Things I have been reading: A.A. Gill "Pour Me", David Foster Wallace "The Depressed Person" (short story), and Brian Keenan "An evil cradling". It was not for that reason — not consciously at least! —, but I notice now that all these are by men (and two are memoirs) that had been held captive in one way or other. In Keenan's case in the literal sense, as a hostage in Lebanon. Gill by alcohol, Wallace by depression and I believe addiction, too.

Gill's book had caught my attention over a year ago in Waterstone's and I read it with long breaks inbetween, though it is very readable — just other books got in the way. Keenan's book found me in the Amnesty bookshop in Gloucester Road this weekend. I am half way through now.

I wish I had not read the Wallace short story. It was mentioned in an article in a newsletter. The article says that in the story, a young woman "is depicted as a self-centred monster". I only remembered this remark after I had finished reading the story. While I was reading it, I felt very much for the woman. But the end does in fact make her look bad, as she descends into a meta-meta-guiltiness about the way she is. Seeking reassurance, she keeps phoning a terminally ill friend, seemingly not caring about her friend's condition as much as about receiving some kind of absolution from her.

And this is one of the meanest things about depression. How self-centered and unable to care it makes you, when it really hits you. Hits you? — The other humiliating thing is of course, that in a way, with the exception of depressions that are caused by an illness of physical origin, or bipolar disorder, you are doing it to yourself. I am convinced that in most cases, some part of the brain chooses to go down that route. What the hell? Why to choose something as debilitating as that?! And yet, somewhere our unconscious sees some benefits. Withdrawal. Rest. Not having to be responsible. Not needing to confront that you might not be as good as you wish. Avoiding rejection. But as the owner of a brain like that, you can only watch on with the remainig parts, as a shitfest begins, with mood, physiology and behaviour all going out of whack.

I used to think it is not possible to get off that downward-bound roller-coaster. And in fact, in most cases it's not. And yet. There might be some stretches that are even. In the past, these times of respite made me think, "ah it's not that bad yet", just before going down the next steep descent. So then I became resigned, and when it started I just surrendered. But then it changed again. Sometimes it seemed I could jolt myself off the roller-coaster when it was about to start. And this was mostly with help from other people.

What if we do have some say after all? Of course, there is the cognitive intervention, David Burns' "Feeling good" which apparently is popular in IT. Exercise. Meditation. All have their merits. But there is never a guarantee.

It is a skill. A bit like dancing I guess. Rolling with it. Once I walked home in a really somber mood, because of some incidents that made me feel rejected, or something similar. And then all of a sudden I managed to have these thoughts that let me see everything in a different perspective. And I thought, "maybe I have grown a patronus".

Recently, it has been challenging, as it had already become physical. For days on end, I seemed to have an exorbitant cortisol production going on. The nerves in my lower arms felt as if they were going to burn through, and if we still had hair on the back of our necks, mine would have been all upright a lot of the time. As mentioned above, physiology out of wack, the stress axis in particular. I started taking St John's Wort and also Omega 3 tablets. I still get the high cortisol a lot, but I have somehow got used to it, and it is not as bad as it used to be. Maybe some day soon, it will become obsolete and stop.

There is a whole story behind it, but at the moment I cannot tell it. I cannot even make sense of it, why it affected me so much.

Something that is always a problem: I cannot see myself as competent at anything. It could even be something I fear, strangely enough.

I do not want this to become the main topic on this blog, but it will crop up again and again I guess, the effort to stay out of depression, and how to do that. There is so many layers to it. Not least how our upbringing plus the unspoken assumptions and expectations we all have, can contribute to one's malaise. I want to think outrageous thoughts, and train myself to be accepting, of myself and others, in ways I have not yet been capable of.

And I take heart from the Irishman, and the English ex public school boy, stuck in a cell, life-lines to each other. — I hope to write some more about that book, I find it very impressive.

For now, if people can keep themselves out of madness in conditions like that, it must be possible to keep my, all in all pretty small, demons at bay, hey?

Positive disintegration

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 02 Jun 2019
So, these days I am pretty exhausted. I would like to put a sign on my head saying "Closed due to restoration works".

The best husband I could ever hope for had to do a lot of handholding today.

Weirdly, when I reach panic stage and break out in tears, that is a good sign. There's something about the panic that seems to wake me up, prevent me from sliding further into a depressive state.

It is very late now, and I should go to bed. And I will, soon.

It was yesterday that I started to see my current unravelling as a chance. "Sometimes, to come to your senses, you have to lose your mind." There are some things I kept glossing over in the past months, and that was fine. But not good in the long run. On a very practical level, my brain child and big attention hogger, CodeHub, is bumbling along, and a lot of things are not working that well. People promise sponsoring money and keep postponing, and Digital Ocean bizarrely did not reply to two emails after having offered us a credit of $250. I am putting some of my own money in now. I am actually planning to inject a big wadge soon, from money I have in Germany (yay, best time now with the current exchange rate).

And that is in a way the easy bit. But underlying is some confusion about what is objectively good about what we do, and about what we can ask sponsoring money for.

And still, even that.. Now, what bothers me most is how I started various things, or talked about starting them, coaches at hack night, opening a library for which I have written a Django app that I've now more or less abandoned. And then it is all dragging along. Oh, there's also the mentoring program.

I have doubts about how useful all of these things are. Some of them, people seem enthusiastic. But not to a point where they would really help with them. And I don't blame them, I'd probably not do that either.

And then what I have more doubts about is my ability to run them. I do things with no credentials whatsoever, on top of that I am not very organised, and the worst, I am both not an advanced programmer and (I have finally come round to that) also suffering from impostor syndrome, probably massively. I mean, in principle you cannot really say you suffer from impostor syndrome. Because when you have it, you are absolutely convinced you are an impostor. How can you know it's a syndrome?

There is something that has been missing for so so long. Self-reliance. And this, this is where the problem with (internalised!) misogyny lies for me. Some women are okay, they've had an affirmative, encouraging environment. I don't exactly know how it happened to me. As a child I was cocky(!) about being smart, and had zero social skills. But of course that was not allowed, and especially the women in my life would not have it. There was such a strong message of having to be modest, putting everybody else's needs in front of your own, be SERVING. I was never able to comply very well, but have learned some social skills like a second language, because I had to.

The thing is, not all of what I have learned as desired female behaviour is bad. Not at all, in fact. It is so easy to complain. I can mostly speak okay to people now and it might be that I look better after people than I otherwise would have. Don't know.

But the one aspect of having been 'knocked into shape' in this way (I suspect that's where it comes from) that I find really deplorable is this: I find it so difficult to say "I can do this", "I am good at this", "This is something I know". And this has an accumulative effect over time. You just never get anywhere. It is pretty bizarre. The clinical depressions I had in my 20s didn't help with that, either. Nor did the Asperger traits I have.

So what I am wondering now: How much can I do about it at my age?? I have a pretty good idea about how 'off' my assumptions are, how distorted my view of things. But that doesn't undo the effects of bad habits over years, and does not prevent me from falling into bad thinking patterns. But it could be a start?!

I want to deliberately tackle this. And it is not selfish. Because the better I get at this, the better able I will be to help other people, and perhaps women especially?

4 am now. I hope it will not affect my whole week now. But I don't have to go to work tomorrow, at least something.

Before I finish, another thing I have come round to: To embrace weirdness, and to let it be on this blog, too. Most developers write about technical things on there blogs. Well, I just don't. At least not for now. There is also this quote by Joss Wheedon: "Whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset"



Caring fool

This post was written 2 years ago.
Fri, 24 May 2019
I feel like writing a series of posts, stringing a narrative together, of some truths I occasionally seem to catch glimpses of, but that are difficult to express.

There are certain recurring themes:
- Competence
- Autism
- The good life (both in terms of acting morally right, and living well)
- Having an impact
- The human condition
- The individual and the crowd

Starting from a naive position. That now is definitely a recurring theme in my life, too. Being naive. I even have it in my Twitter bio, I'd rather be naive than cynic. Fool on the Hill. The Fool, my favourite card of the Tarot Deck. Walking close to the precipice but not falling down. Knowing while seeming dumb. Being open. Always beginning.

All that seems in opposition to what our lives are determined by. Progress, complexity, accumulation of power, growing divides.

Can a fool learn? Now that is an interesting question.

Does he need to learn, or should he rather teach?

While I like the figure of the fool, I am not him, but maybe he is part of me. More than he is part of other people. He might make learning difficult some of the time.

Diary - mid May

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 19 May 2019
A week since my last entry, and so much seems to have changed, again. Not outwardly so much. All in the mind.

A couple of hours ago, I received an email newsletter. It is written by Zeynep Tufekci. She says of it "It's an experiment: longer writing that is not public writing." It can be found here: https://tinyletter.com/zeynepnotes. This new editon, not added to the archive yet, quite threw me. It clarified something for me. Recently, I had been thinking this: We are determined by so much more than our genes and our environment. We are a continuation of all our ancestors' lives. They play out through us, and it can be surprising. This is not what Zeynep Tufekci wrote about, but the common thread is this: Genes and personality is not enough to explain why people act in the ways they do.

In her newsletter, Zeynep pointed to this article she wrote for Scientific American: The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones. I think it is brilliant. — I have not watched GOT, though it has always intrigued me. I have read up on the story and characters, watched a summary, and then watched this current season's first episode. But it seemed a bit boring to me, and some of the acting wooden. I then heard from my colleague Alex that in seasons 7 and 8 it had got a lot worse. Zeynep thinks that too, and her analysis of why it happened, is compelling and fascinating (despite my not having watched the series). Sociological storytelling has been replaced by psychological narrative. Previously, you could understand why under certain circumstances, characters acted the way they did, even the bad ones. There were outside pressures and incentives. Now things are explained from individual predispositions, which is what Hollywood commonly does. The hero/antihero narrative whith good and evil characters. And when you do that, you cannot kill off your main characters because you rely on them to carry the psychologically motivated story. Zeynep then compares this to our current times. Much is pinned on individual people: Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Bezos, Dorsey etc. But the resulting society is not so much shaped by individuals, but by what is punished and incentivised. The structures determine much more than individual people do.

Taking it into another direction, on a personal level, I find it more comforting. There is a reason for the ways I act, the things I do. Not that I want to use that as an excuse! Things that make absolutely no sense on one level, have an explanation. I can trace back and understand the steps that got me there. But it can still be a mess, and I guess the challenge is then to find ways to resolve it.

I'd have liked to write so much more. I wanted to make so many plans. But really they are all in my head and I just need to write them down. I hope!

Tags: diary /

Diary - Spring to Summer

This post was written 2 years ago.
Sun, 12 May 2019
This is going to be a short entry. I am mainly writing it so as to start this blog again at all. I like the idea to have a diary with frequent entries again for a while, as I have done a few times before.

There is a lot going on, in so many departments. I mostly feel fine, even elated. The past year has been exciting, often quite challenging, sometimes frightening, but also rewarding. In short, it felt like an adventure. Just occasionally, like today, something else is mixed in, some kind of weariness.

My main challenge is, always, that I am interested in so many things. With regards to programming, but also beyond that. Sometimes I start reading a lot, and all over the place. On Saturday I went into town around 3pm, I wanted to buy some presents for my daughter whose birthday was today. In Waterstones, I saw a pyramid of copies of a book on display. The book was called "Moneyland". I could not help but enter the store. I picked up the said Moneyland, but then also "Maintains Pereira" by Antonio Tabucchi, and a book called "Awakening" (from 1899) by Kate Chopin. I settled at a little table with the three books and got so sucked into all three of them in turn, that I forgot everything around me. In the end I bought Maintains Pereira.

I thought I had forgotten my phone, and actually liked being blissfully unaware of the time. When I emerged I found the phone in my coat pocket, and was a bit shocked to realise it was 5 past 6. I had just sat there for three hours flat, no break, no drinks, just reading. Luckily a lot of the shops were still open and I got the presents I wanted in the end.

The night before, I had equally been drawn into reading a lot online, this time about programming and in particular functional programming, but also one post with guidelines about learning to program that had lots of useful links: https://medium.com/zerotomastery/learn-to-code-in-2019-get-hired-and-have-fun-along-the-way-d4197f96be27.

There is a balance to strike between being pulled in many directions — explore —, and more systematic approaches to spending your time; to read and to learn. I sometimes wonder if I spend too much on the first!

There's lots of things I wanted to post about Codehub, to various Slack channels, and in direct messages. There's new things we are planning to do, and if I don't post about them soon it will become more and more difficult.

And also, I need to put something together for tomorrow, documenting how I deploy to a dev site with Ansistrano, so I can show somebody else.

Today was completely dedicated to my daughter, we went down to the harbour and later to Brendan Hill, where I had a go on the swing, something I haven't done for ages! In the evening we went out eating and afterwards played a game of Catan. This again had not been planned, and I'd thought I might spend some time on the computer despite the birthday. But it was good that way, and I have no regrets.

Just now, of course, there is a bit of pressure. Sticking to something I committed to.

So, this is a snapshot of my life right now. There is much more though, and some I might write about. Most will be about programming, CodeHub, ideas and things I read, and how to balance everything :)

For now, good night.

Tags: diary /

Life lessons

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 07 Mar 2019
Note: This post almost definitely falls in the over-sharing category. I did not want to write like that anymore, except today I do. If you don't like over-sharing, don't read it.

 

I am writing this from the bath. I have Jota on my phone and can save this file to Dropbox. The wonderful new technology. The dangerous, heart-wrenching new technology.

I have a wonderful life. The most amazing family. A great support network. That is why I know I will be fine (unless something unforeseen happens). That is why nobody has to check on me. I also don't know if I will eventually publish this post.

My wonderful, happy life is also, incidentally, why I thought I could now start to help other people. That, today, seems very conceited to me. There's one type of people that can both acknowledge their struggling and help others, and that is therapists (and some of them can't). With anybody else, it is questionable whether they should try.

Today's and the last weeks' lesson would be, again, that I should not start to care too much about people outside my family. And again, I won't learn it and I don't want to learn it, and I won't take it to heart.

It is a curious situation that currently a number of people seem to be disappearing from my life. That sucks. In some cases it has definitely nothing to do with me, but in almost all I have a feeling I might have contributed. And that sucks even more.

Five years ago, I had somebody literally turning their back on me. That was very difficult for me. But at least it was just one person. I started to go for a run every morning for about 4 weeks. The same year I ran a half marathon in September. The next year, I ran one again, in May. And in May 2016, I ran a marathon in Liverpool, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Also, I found it almost impossible to walk down stairs for a few days. But it was totally worth it.

I've felt very wobbly recently, and I've been preoccupied with these thoughts, wondering what I might have done to deserve this, and the unsettling thing is, I can find a number of reasons why the person where this is most acute, might be disappointed in me.

All I can do is go through this. Today there were some bitter tears. But still, I am not in a depression. I hope I'll manage to dodge it again, as I've managed for the past 21 years. A clinical depression, I mean by this. There's a difference between a depression and depressive feelings. Of the latter I've had plenty, though miraculously not so much the past half year.

I was reminded of this difference when I recently wen't on my reddit account. Three years ago I posted on the /r/aspergirls subreddit, and we discussed it there. It is still the only ever subreddit I have posted on.

Maybe it is all synchronicity and means a new step lies ahead. I should most certainly pass on CodeHub. Maybe become a bit like a recluse and just code. Then meet new people, and the whole cycle starts again.

New Start

This post was written 3 years ago.
Wed, 30 Jan 2019
The self-censorship machine has been at work again and I removed my last post, as too self-indulgent and irrelevant. ( - For anyone wondering about the rabbit, it did return after 4 days and is alive and well :))

I am in fact thinking of moving all my previous blog posts into some kind of archive that is still accessible, but will not be the main blog.

I used to have aspirations to have a technical blog. I don't think it will ever be that, but I don't want it to be a personal diary either, and in the past it did sometimes look like that.

I will still write personal things, it is difficult for me not to. I am glad to see quite personal writing styles in professional writers, too (e.g. Laurie Penny, also Robert Sapolsky in his book Behave). I think it is something like a character trait.

There is a lot going on at the moment both in my personal life, and - I don't think anybody would disagree here - in the UK, Europe, the world. Crossroads everywhere.

I think a lot about what one could call collective mental health. I used to think mine was a bit precarious, but it is not just me, not at all! It is such a widespread problem. And so many people are feeling insecure these days.

It is a bit like when women read Betty Friedan and realised that they were not the only ones feeling so unhappy, that it was not them but the the structures they were living in that made them unhappy.

These days it's not just the women, but many men too. And I just hope we all wake up to it and manage to create something better.

I was reminded of this post from 2014 recently. I had mentioned it on my blog twice before! I had forgotten how good it is. 4 and a half years on, and we are still dealing with the fallout from all he's describing, though I have a feeling things are changing now. But in which direction?

This is exactly what I feel like: "I feel like I need to figure this out, like figuring all of this out and finding new ways to live has become the most important thing I could possibly do, not just for myself and the people I love but for the entire human race."

Than he carries on:

"I don't mean me alone — I'm far too self-loathing to have a messiah complex — but I feel like, for me, this is the best use of my time. Because the world is making me crazy and sad and wanting to just put a gun in my mouth, and it's doing the same thing to a lot of people who shouldn't have to feel this way.

I don't believe anymore that the answer lies in more or better tech, or even awareness. I think the only thing that can save us is us. I think we need to find ways to tribe up again, to find each other and put our arms around each other and make that charm against the dark. I don't mean in any hateful or exclusionary way, of course. But I think like minds need to pull together and pool our resources and rage against the dying of the light. And I do think rage is a component that's necessary here: a final fundamental fed-up-ness with the bullshit and an unwillingness to give any more ground to the things that are doing us in. To stop being reasonable. To stop being well-behaved. Not to hate those who are hurting us with their greed and psychopathic self-interest, but to simply stop letting them do it. The best way to defeat an enemy is not to destroy them, but to make them irrelevant."

Making the charm against the dark, that's what I want to help doing. And figuring out new ways to live.

This is where I am starting from.

Tags: mind_stuff / blog /