Life in Acronyms
AFAIK, DER . It’s TEOTWAWKI. HTGT. LABTYD.
Yes that is English.
It’s not a mistake.
Shall I translate?
These days our frenetic lives are defined in acronyms. No messing about. It’s our culture.
We just have to get used to it. Living our lives by abbreviation.
What have I just written, you may ask?
I’ll start again.
As far as I know, we should drop everything and run. It’s the end of the world as we know it. We are here today and gone tomorrow. Life’s a bitch ‘til you die.
Sad though this statement seemed, it did make me think.
If I was asked to think of an acronym, what would it be?
It would have to be an acronym of the most important topic known to man. That very topic without which we would not have been created. The most crucial aspect of you and of me. Curious?
My answer would have to be, an acronym about Life.
My little grey cells are galvanising. Perhaps the acronym about my own LIFE is short for:
However, surely preferable, is the more gentle option:
But in reality it is more likely I fear:
But LIFE, whichever acronym you choose, implies HEALTH.
It’s an interesting question. What exactly does it mean – to be healthy?
So I’m designing an acronym for HEALTHY.
Keep reading and you will see.
There’s a photograph of me in the family album. I am about 4 years old, on the beach, with my father. He is crouching beside me. I am not crouching, I am standing on tiptoes for all the world to see, my head thrown back, laughing. I have short, blonde, tufty hair and a mischievous grin, standing there, in my red bathing suit, one strap carelessly draped on one shoulder. I look like I am on top of the world. And my then youthful father gazes at me with pride, as the rollers break on the shore behind us.
I can’t remember that day, but then I think I can – can I? I have seen the picture so many times it feels like I know that I was there.
When I think of ‘healthy’ I think of myself in that picture. It encapsulates youth, energy, laughter and love. Is that the definition I am seeking? – But I can’t stop here. There is more, so much more to say.
Healthy is not just for the young and carefree. It spans the generations. But how to be healthy and 101? Like my friend Billie? She would say her life has been a lucky one. Born to a wealthy family that became a famous name in the glass manufacturing industry, she was privately educated, married at 21, and never had to work a day in her life. That said, she married a promising Army officer who rose to become a Brigadier. Let’s not forget she has had her share of sherry and curry lunches. The couple were not blessed with children, a fact which she finds deeply saddening, but her female form has been well preserved. At 101, she looks trim in her twin set and pearls, she has a perfect perm, finely manicured hands and she still has all her own teeth. She has her health, Billie tells me. But, widowed long ago, she tells me at every visit, she wants to die. “What does God want with me a useless woman on the surface of the earth. I pray every night he will take me.” I am utterly used to her repertoire.
101 – healthy – but unhappy. So really – not healthy – at all. To be truly healthy inherently requires happiness.
So I am wrong. Billie is not healthy after all.
To be healthy means to start at the Heart of the matter. A beating heart is essential, no one can argue that. I think about a young man I saw on the television, who has been on the waiting list for a donor heart for 2 years. He is only 19, and after a sudden attack of viral myocarditis, this has left his own heart pathetic, frail and inefficient. His blue lips and breathlessness were plain for the nation to see. He had no choice, that poor boy, but to accept an artificial mechanical heart, or he would die.
But rules are rules. If he accepted the artificial heart, he must come off the transplant waiting list. What could he do, he had no choice. The artificial heart is a large-ish box that sits next to him on a chair. It may keep him alive, but he has no liberty, no freedom of movement. He is going to live, for now, with a beating heart, but he is not ‘healthy.’ That is plain to see.
Possession of a functional working heart is the most vital ingredient for health.
In my childhood photograph the one thing that leaps out from the picture, is Energy. To be healthy, we need energy, and with energy, we then Exercise. Bend and stretch. Pull and push. Lift and lower. Breathe and pant. Our bodies are in synergy, inhaling the pure air and exhaling the exhaust. Energy and Exercise. Part of my HEALTHY acronym to be sure.
My father was a runner. He ran all his life. He ran his last half marathon aged 80, just 18 months before he died. Head down, he pummelled the ground with his feet in a relentless drill. No doubt he was pounding out his stress into the tarmac floor. Once he had set his mind to a run, nothing would defeat him from completing the distance. “When the going gets tough . . .” he would say. I could finish the sentence for him “. . . the tough get going.” (Dad you were tough.) The running was a personal challenge, several times a week.
In the end, it wasn’t his heart that stopped him being Healthy – it was cancer. You can’t be healthy when you have cancer.
Somewhere in my definition of HEALTHY, it needs to read “disease free.”
Cancer is a relentless tyrant. I watched my darling father ravaged by it. Within 3 months of the diagnosis, he was dead. He went from a fit 81 year old to a helpless skeleton before my eyes. And I wept with the helplessness of it all. It was a tumour in the pancreas, a silent monster that devoured him from the inside out. There was no curative treatment they said, palliative only.
Why – is the question we all ask? There is no answer. Years of research and we are still no closer to finding the cause of or a cure for, pancreatic cancer. I always need a hook to hang something on, do you? That way I can understand, or come to terms with the problem. Was it his diet? He wasn’t overweight, in fact he was fastidious about his diet to the extent I called him the oldest anorexic in town. He ate a lot of fish and salad. But he had smoked most of his life, was partial to wine with his dinner and was a confirmed carnivore, like many of his generation. Having lived through the war on rations, meat was a regular and revered component of his daily diet.
If you Google causes for cancer you can come up with a host of surprises. There are claims cancer can be caused by cosmetics, air pollution, plastic bottles, or even being left handed! Have a healthy suspicion for what you read on the internet. It’s most likely none of this is true. But we can only conclude that a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of cancer. It’s that word ‘healthy’ again. It crops up time and time again.
My father possessed one unique quality in abundance – integrity. He too was an Army Officer in his day, then a Research and Development Manager for a Pharmaceutical company. In his retirement he became a Counsellor of the town where he lived. Many people sought his advice and support. He had time for everyone, and if you asked him for help, he would listen hard and give his full attention to understanding the problem, then give the very best advice he could muster. He wrote beautiful letters to the town council. He will always be remembered for spear heading the campaign for example, to ‘Save Our Seafront.’ SOS. Another acronym. Thanks Dad.
A healthy mind. Mental health is part of the healthy acronym. I have watched my poor friend Mark decline, having been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s aged 47. I had not understood until I saw it first hand, what this terrible disease can do to a previously fit Hotel Manager with a first class degree in Botany. He came home unexpectedly from work one day, saying he just felt too tired. He never went back. Within a few weeks he had started forgetting simple words in his speech, like “cloud” or “cup.” He couldn’t get the key into the front door lock. He stopped riding his bike. His right hand started to shake. He was treated for depression but there was no improvement. The brain scan made the diagnosis. Now 10 years on, he is having 24 hour care. His symptoms have worsened such that he can barely speak, he has a perpetual tremor such that he can only eat finger food, he needs to be reminded to drink and can’t hold a cup, and is incontinent.
Sad then that Mark was a bright, physically fit, young man, and it is his unhealthy mind that has put him in a vulnerable state. Alzheimer’s is a soul destroying condition for the sufferer and for those they love. The body cannot be healthy without the mind. It’s as simple as that.
I wonder then about emotion and health. There are certain qualities we undoubtedly need. We can consider the concepts of how to live and to love. It’s a fact that couples in loving relationships having regular sex, live better quality and longer lives, than those who are not. There is something indomitable about a close partnership. We were not designed to be alone on the planet. Loving is caring and sharing. Skin to skin contact makes us feel warm inside, like eating a syrup sponge pudding. Loving our partners gives us purpose, and a sense of self esteem. Loving relationships, I believe, are an important ingredient of health.
My own divorce took three years, cost me around £50,000 and caused severe psychological melt down. This was not conducive to health. We had been married 27 years, and he did what so many men do at his age, had an affair. Every day, as I opened my eyes in the morning they were already wet with tears. My face was just constantly wet. I was dried out to a crisp. The slightest thing would make me cry. Not having the right change for a parking meter, or running out of stamps, that kind of thing. Anything remotely sad on the TV or the radio, or music, any tune from the past that brought memories flooding back. I was a lump of cotton wool, literally not a morsel of fibre in my body.
Gradually however, I learnt to stop crying. I had to take a hold of my emotions. I grabbed hold of the pain and in great armfuls I stuffed it into a huge box, a bright pink box as I think of it, in my mind’s eye. I took a thick piece of rope and I tied that box up. Round and round , I wound the rope. Then, I pushed that box into the recesses of my mind. I will not open the box, ever. Now my life is back on course. With the box stashed away, I can live again. I have learnt how to control my emotions. I am in charge of them and not the other way round.
I can laugh again, and feel the sun on my face, and swim and dance. I own myself. I am free to make choices. Healthy choices. To be healthy we need to be free of emotional pain.
And what of personal development? My father always told me you can be whatever you want to be. He told me to believe in myself and to shoot for the moon. He was very wise. I know now that to truly fulfil your aspirations, something else is imperative. You need to ’listen to the voice of your soul.’ My counsellor told me that. How right she was. Career choices are impossibly difficult for young people. Career changes are monumentally hard in midlife. However, in our quest for health and happiness, making the right choices has to feature highly in the equation.
There have been a lot of articles and programmes recently about people making career changes. Banker to Bee Keeper. Solicitor to Jam Manufacturer. Teacher to self-employed Gardener. Pathologist to Odd Job Man (How appropriate!). I have met and spoken to some of these people, all sick of the 9-5 mentality, the commute, the stress and dealing with the management. What they sought it seems, is to be in charge of themselves. True self-esteem from the fruits of their own labours. People who searched their souls for a solution. To be happy, and healthy, you need to be at peace in your own skin. This comes with independence and personal achievement, not from being a minion on the office floor.
Making such decisions involves a lot of thinking. A spreadsheet may be the answer. Pro’s on one side and con’s on the other. Plus a big column for finance. Fact of life, we need money to live. How much is debatable, but health and happiness cannot be achieved, if you cannot put a roof over your head.
There’s a very fashionable word out there you hear a lot. It’s called stress. Although we hear about it, we suffer it, and we hate it, what exactly is stress?
Like the very best Stradivarius violin, our bodies are finely tuned instruments. Each peg on the neck of the violin is delicately twisted for optimum musical pitch. Twist too hard, the strings grow taut. The pitch is whining, and without prompt attention, these strings will break.
When we feel under pressure, which for most of us is let’s face it is most of the time, the brain becomes distressed. It prompts the adrenal glands, which sit just above the kidneys, to produce the hormone adrenaline. Adrenaline causes the heart to beat faster, the pupils to dilate like saucers, and the skin to sweat. It is the feeling a caveman would have had when running away from a sabre toothed tiger.
At the same time, there is also release of the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol result in raised blood pressure, increased blood glucose levels, obesity, acne and other unpleasant symptoms such as insomnia, exhaustion, altered mental functioning, a weakened immune system, muscle fatigue, tiredness, loss of libido and digestive problems.
We cannot be healthy when suffering from stress. To be healthy is to be de-stressed.
The modern world is stressful. There is pressure everywhere. Pressure on children to conform to the latest gadgets, to social media, designer clothes, dealing with bullying, drugs and peer pressure. For women, both in pregnancy and then after childbirth, whether they choose to work or stay at home. For young people studying, choosing GCSE’s, A levels, university courses, taking out student loans. For people in the work place dealing with officious managers, unassailable deadlines and targets. Stress is everywhere, from the demands of the taxman to the vagaries of public transport. Even for the elderly, anxious about life on a pension, perhaps frail and unwell and concerned now about their care ‘til they die. Stress is all around us. If we are all stressed, we must all be, by definition, unhealthy.
There are an infinite number of ideas for de-stressing. Most of us can’t afford to quit the day job. But we can try to create a work life balance. If only there was a magic solution. Modern society is driven by goals and efficiency. Time management, delegation, team working, and good communication are paramount. Out of the office, we need to plan. Intercalate some exercise into our day. Exercise is good for stress. It uses up that adrenaline and rejuvenates tired muscles. It floods the brain with endorphins, well being hormones. Even if we feel too tire to do it, afterwards we will reap the rewards.
Don’t feel guilty next time you fancy a massage, a facial or a hot tub. It’s all about how to de-stress. Meditation, mindfulness, and a positive mental attitude. Try yoga? Try to behave well about your health. Don’t turn to cigarettes or alcohol or hard drugs, these will just make it worse. Eat well, rest and sleep.
Poor sleep is a major cause of mental ill-health. Make sure you sleep. When you sleep, levels of the hormone leptin increase, signalling to the body that all is well and there is no hunger, no need to eat. Lack of sleep and low levels of leptin, signals hunger to the brain, and this in turn leads to an increase in obesity. Lack of sleep equals ill health.
Billie has old age stress. Dad had cancer stress. I had divorce stress. It’s all recorded here.
One acronym for LIFE, is Living In Fear Every day. Yes, I think we did.
So now what does it mean to be HEALTHY?
So I’m trying to be HEALTHY. Today is my first day. I’m planning it.
First stop, resignation. I don’t hate my job but I loathe the management and the stressed , voiceless, impotent, cogwheel , which I have become.
Second stop, I’m off to the spinning class to pant out my stress on those bicycle wheels.
Third stop, I’m off to shop for my new healthy eating plan. Fish, salad, fruit and not a lot else.
Fourth stop, I’m moving in with my new boyfriend. This time I have left is for loving.
Fifth stop, I’m de-stressing. Time for a hot tub and a massage, then a cosy evening with a favourite
Sixth stop, I’m going to be me.
I think about Dad. He didn’t know that there are 231 acronyms for SOS. Here’s a few:
Same Old Story.
Save our Souls.
Sink or Swim.
Sounds of Silence.
There are 49 acronyms of LIFE. Here’s a few:
Literacy is for Everyone (Well you’re reading this blog!)
Living is for Everyone (Breathe – this is your life)
Living isn’t Forever (Seize the day)
This is “Life in Acronyms.” …. Let’s live it. Daisy Mae 7/7/2017