Win the War on Boredom and Stress During Isolation!

“The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes [themself] to cultivating habits.” – Albert Camus, The Plague

by John Urquhart

As someone with mental health complexities as well as physical disability, I often have to be bored, indoors, on my own, doing absolutely nothing productive. So: are you isolated?

I got your back on this!

And so do many other people! For a start, a bunch of stuff just got made free, or put in trial mode, just to help you out. Like I’ll undoubtedly say a few times: we’re all in this together, and not in the sense that politicians say that, but in the very real sense.

Let’s start with the sedate.

D’you fancy a trip to Paris? The timing isn’t great for a trip but you can still “walk” the streets using Google Street View, as well as some museums and galleries. You can also check out the museums and lots of art at the Paris Museums Collection; it has 342,622 works available online, for free, especially for you, during isolation.

Not enough museum-ing and art for you? There’s also virtual museum tours, set up by museums around the world. The British Museum; the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; why not go back to Paris and visit the Musée d’Orsay? This article has these and more.

Sticking with art, it’s a shame so many conventions and expos are being cancelled. Luckily, that doesn’t have to ruin all of the fun of them. eComic Expo is a virtual expo space for all sorts of arts, crafts, comics, books, and much more besides — definitely check it out, especially if you want to support people whose livelihoods usually depend on those very same conventions that are being cancelled.

Social distancing needn’t be lonely. The internet is full of ways to chat and interact with other people. If you’re into gaming or some related subcultures, you might especially find use in Discord, which has both text and voice chat capabilities; there are many public servers. Discord runs in your browser, so there’s nothing to install — but it is available as both a desktop application and on your smaller devices, too.

If you miss your friends and family, don’t forget Skype — once you both have it installed, they’re always only a call away.

You could even go retro and hop onto Internet Relay Chat — one of the earliest unicast chat systems in use on the Internet (which played a role in getting information out when the Soviet Union fell, no less) — using Mibbit — a huge selection of chat rooms and people of all kinds from all over the world await you.

There are endless selections of hobby forums as well (too many to link to!); places to debate your favourite TV shows, or to share wisdom about cleaning fabrics. You name it. Search is definitely your friend!

In this vein, and a little basic and obvious for some, but not all: there’s Reddit (“the front page of the internet”) for just about anything, such as your daily fix of kitter and an adorable proliferation of rare puppers, with a vast array of “subreddits” at your fingertips. Reddit is basically a community of forums, so there’s usually something for everyone there.

How about music? korg, makers of (i)Kaossilator, have made that app free for everyone on iOS and Android for a limited time in order to help us all get through. Check it out here.

Lastly, here are some don’ts to help you keep your stress levels low and your engagement level high:

* don’t read the news constantly. It’ll make you anxious. Especially if you’re isolating because you’re sick, this isn’t helpful to your immune system. Set yourself one time a day, with a specific amount of time set aside to read the news — and then leave it alone.
* don’t think you’re really alone. You’re not. We’re all with you still. Nobody is “outside” of this situation — we’re all in it.
* don’t be afraid to keep a journal, even if you don’t normally do so. You’re going to need an outlet through these very trying times in order to keep stress down and your immune system up. A journal is a way for you to get thoughts down — and then walk away.
* don’t do just one thing, especially if it’s your hobby. Make yourself do other stuff. If you just do one thing, you’re at real risk of getting bored with it and then feeling like there’s nothing else to do.

Above all else, find the things that make you smile and do ’em. When we’re alone we’re most ourselves, so never forget: Do you how you do.

Awakening to Fatigue

Motivation is hard to find when tiredness binds

This is a short, emotive personal piece about the author’s daily struggle with fatigue. It was originally published on Medium.

by John Urquhart

I remember a time when I could do without sleep quite readily in some ways. I’d have the usual cognitive deficits of course; in a nearly drunk little funk, ambling amiably about in a diminished dwaible instead of a deliciously awake and alert dance.

But honestly the difference often felt paper thin at best. Perhaps I’m just always a dork — or perhaps I just didn’t use to have to also contend with the crushing weight of fatigue.

It’s not yet clear what causes my fatigue; it could be the year-round allergic rhinitis, which gives rise to occasional bouts of sinus infection. Those cause fatigue. In theory, so can the antihistamine medication that mostly controls those flare ups. And my new GP has finally begun the process of figuring out whether, as suspected for years now, I may have fibromyalgia.

That fibro is diagnosed more frequently in women is an intrigue that does not escape me, given my quietly suppressed lifelong inner gender ambiguity.

Sometimes my day starts quite well. I think that’s the easiest to handle. When the tiredness comes — usually about five hours after I wake up — it’s easy to just pretend that I’ve had an extra busy day somehow. When that’s a lie it’s a little awkward, but it’s management of the dysphoric impact of exhaustion; for me, the sense that others get more energy to do more things can be keen and lead to more fatigue by way of bouts of anhedonia of varying depth.

Anhedonia, for those who found the word unfamiliar, is an inability to experience joy or beauty. Dysphoria is best described for me as an abiding, often non-specific, but easily attaching disquiet, dissatisfaction, or sorrow. Both can bring on fatigue themselves, or at least a malaise of motivation.

When the day starts in pain and deep fatigue, that is when it is hard to find purpose. What motivation is there for a day doomed to quiet failures? To a sequence of usually easily avoided pitfalls? A day when writing will be a struggle, a terrible frustration of inability to successfully wind through the maze of readability in the hope of meeting you, dearest reader, at an Exit to my mind.

And here is how that fatigue feels:

A mind of fog, but with the same certainty and sense of sharpness. So: at once, muddiness and clarity. Memory problems are a natural consequence; I will believe I’ve noted the location of an item but I really haven’t, or I have noted a previous location. The one before the current one.

Which is useless.

Sometimes I can’t even a word, no matter how it feels like it’s right there, on the tip of my tongue, or waiting to flow down my fingers into the screen.

The cold is colder, but heat is impossible to be rid of and makes me itch. And then there’s just the physical muscular despair. The sense that movement is just impossible, a sense that only partially dissipates when thoroughly disproved by virtue of actually moving. But all movement is somehow slower, too. And — worse — adds to the sense of inevitable sleep.

But it’s very hard to fall asleep while I’m in a trough of fatigue. I have to surface a little first…

So. Here we are, perhaps.

My day is hard. I wrote this to say so.

Welcome, maybe, Reader, to the Entrance to my maze.

Today I woke up energised, but wrote this as I faded.

I wish you the energy I don’t have.

Chronic Pain: Not Very Invisible

People often say chronic pain is an invisible disability. It’s because you don’t want to look

This article was originally published on Medium.

by John Urquhart

Living with chronic pain is as anyone will tell you… painful.

Oftentimes it’s not, though, as painful as you might think when you hear phrases like “I hurt every day of the week” or “I have been in pain since I was 6 years old.” For one thing, you build tolerance to pain over time. Your pain threshold, as it were, escalates. But this is not really the whole story; it’s not like the pain just magically goes away if you experience it long enough.

The pain is still there. It just transmutes.

It can become ill health. It can become fatigue. It can become a strange, muddy sort of slowness of the mind; a drunkenness without the dancing.

Although, because humans are resilient and rebellious, sometimes it is very much the drunkenness with the dancing too.

But, of course, having a very high pain threshold does not mean you do not feel pain, and when the threshold is breached — suddenly, by an unexpected event, say — all the pain comes alive at once. And what’s more, the fatigue, the grogginess, the sluggish leaden sense of not being quite present in any given moment doesn’t go away. It’s still there. But now there’s pain, too.

Anyone who has had a protracted toothache has probably experienced all of this, although they may or may not remember it particularly well; our brains don’t really want us to remember how hard life can be. It is important to the ongoing act of keeping us from dying.

So, back to that moment of “breach”. Why not give it a narrative?

I’m on the bus.

I’m holding the rail, standing, smiling vacantly because there’s not much else to do and people look at you on the bus. So you should smile, probably. (Social conditioning of this sort is more intense in the disabled, if you’re wondering; we frequently don’t want you to unexpectedly enter our physical space for reasons which will immediately become clear.) The bus is full, so I have to stand. There are two prams. I have no visible walking aids, so asking anyone to stand up is a confrontation I just don’t want.

We’re approaching a stop. The ding goes off; someone is getting off here. I’m not. I angle my feet to make sure there’s space, but I realise that this isn’t good enough. So I angle them more. My ankles are a bit more plastic than they should be, which means I can get them pretty far out. Like a weird duck.

I hold them this way as the person approaches. It doesn’t really hurt, but I know if I do it too long that it will.

But: here’s the rub. It’s better to risk it than risk being impacted by the passerby.

Except as they approach, I see they have a shopping bag. There’s just about enough time to sigh before a can of beans hits my knee. It’s a glancing blow: light. I know — although only because I’ve been told — that for anyone else, this is no big deal. It doesn’t hurt for most people. It might tingle at most for many.

For me, however, I’ve been smashed in the knee by a can of beans. It’s like being hit with a hammer. My knee feels like it’s going to buckle, and I’ve got my legs at funny angles to let this stranger go by, and now —

They’re looking at me really funny.

I realise I’m showing the pain and they have nearly, but not quite, spotted it. This kind of observation is not unusual for me because I am hypervigilant about other people’s faces; possibly a microexpression reader. I call it reading their topography. But that is another subject entirely.

In the moment, I curl some unknown inner fist tight and crunch it all down and dissociate.

It’s the only way, because if I keep showing the pain, the woman who is looking at me will see it. And if she sees it, I’ll see her recoil. She’ll feel aggressed against. She’ll think I hate her. She’ll hate me.

I smile at her. “Stopped a bit harsh there,” I hear myself jabber — probably I say it fairly normally, light-heartedly though. I’m harsh on myself in this state. She stares at me. It’s not really the right thing but it is filling the space as my knee throbs and all the other pain in my body slides out of slumber, so I put the joke in my tone instead of the words: “I nearly lost my balance there!” No blame on her.

It’s just about an exclamation. I convey my desperation for this entire thing to end with my eyes, I think. She sees it, but still doesn’t understand. She thinks I’m weird but she’s not scared. She smiles and laughs, shaking her head because she’s confused; but she’s put at ease by how light-hearted I’ve managed to seem as she bustles by me and off the bus. I see it, because I’m just someone who pays attention to people, constantly. Hypervigilance.

When I get off the bus, I’m shaking internally. The dissociation was intense. It isn’t good for me. It leads to panic attacks. And those are often worse than the pain — and often, the stress causes pain levels to increase.

But this is what happens when I don’t show it.

If I told you what happened when I did, you’d know why I turn my mental face away from the pain so sharply.

You’d know how I’d been conditioned by a society that treats me as something to be feared in every moment I needed care.

You’d know how every time, when I was a child, I expressed pain, people told me it was impossible or I was pretending and that I was a liar and therefore — not one of them. Bad people. Wrong people.

The reason I’m writing this article is because it’s not just me.

Many disabled people will, I think, at least feel some resonance with this sense of constant masking in public spaces.

I’ll leave the worst part to the last line, the real, full reason why:

Deliberately or not… because we already hurt, we don’t want you to hit us again.

What Is EBTKS?

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Everything But The Kitchen Sink is a phrase which stuck with me from reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy; it was there a phrase associated with a desire to throw it all together.

Cymbal is so inspired; EBTKS is too.

It is a sad fact of our society that many people are voiceless or unheard. When those among us are silenced it is a tragedy not just for those who do not get to speak up, or at least do not get to be heard.

It is also a tragedy for the rest of us.

I believe that the places where voices intersect – where stories meet, merge, mingle – is where most invention and emergence appears. Thus it is that diversity, plurality, and democracy are kin.

Cymbal, then, is a hope for cacophony of one kind. EBTKS is that too, but perhaps something a little more focused on the beauty. A mingling of different voices, of harmonies, yet with moments of dissonance and assonance alike.

We are open to submissions. We are working on our submission process, but there are multiple ways to reach out to us on the Cymbal website. We’ll get back to you with more information. 

The question of what we want is of course important.

We want:

  • stories that range from the casual, to the in-depth
  • stories for all reading ages
  • stories about disability, especially in relation to Universal Credit
  • stories in experimental presentation styles; poetic articles for example, or ballads, or spoken word with interpretive dance … surprise us!
  • well-researched, factual, investigative articles about community issues
  • budget recipes for use with slow cookers
  • budget recipes for microwave cooking
  • budget recipes for stove-only cooking
  • budget recipes for the allergic

We do require that any articles in our publication are strictly non-partisan. That is, one might criticise any given political party, but one must stick to the correct name for that party – not a derogatory nickname. One must stick to the facts. No ad hominem attacks; the idea must be deconstructed, and the human only ever boosted and supported.

That said, we will accept political submissions – but our standards for said (and for the aforementioned investigative journalism) will be very high.

Ideally, everything we publish will be published through Medium. That means if necessary we will walk you through the creation of an account. Joining the Partner Program with Medium is optional but recommended for anyone seeking to submit articles for our interest. Part of the idea of EBTKS is, in fact, to aid the incomes of struggling writers. Collective exposure is an eyeball boost.

For communal good, which is the overall purpose of the entire publication (and of Cymbal), recipes and other helpful articles will be mirrored immediately on this site as a condition of publication with us on Medium. All other content will have an authorial-negotiated delay (we recommend 7 days).

Because we want the best for everyone who submits content to us, we do ask that anyone doing so is open to constructive, friendly criticism and requests for specific readability targets for articles. We’re not interested in belittling you, but we are interested in enlarging your audience, and wowing them wherever you can.

Remember: we love and support you.

~ John Urquhart, Chief Curator of Everything But The Kitchen Sink

Of Strikes & Humans

by John Urquhart

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” — Steven Biko

This story was originally published on the Rose Community Group blog. It is also found on Medium.

Strike action is often seen only at the very surface; in the media it is usually reported simply in the context of two sides snarlingly facing off against each other. Just a lot of demands, counter-demands, and arguments.

But this gladiatorial portrayal ignores a great deal that is important. Conflicts between co-workers, about who strikes, about who doesn’t, and about who has the privilege to be able to do so.

Whilst those going on strike are usually at least somewhat financially supported by their unions, not everyone is. This means not everyone can afford to support a strike by joining one, even if that strike is to their personal long-term benefit.

This does not always prevent people from participating, as they may borrow money, or have a strong social support network. But arguably the greatest long-term impact for everyone involved in a strike — especially the management — is psychosocial.

Strikers are, in effect, forced to stand “against” their colleagues (and maybe friends, or even relatives) who choose not to strike. Management must stand against people they may well later be expected to lead. Further, they may be expected to be physically responsible for those same “opponents” in the workplace, in terms of health and safety.

Yet management are not really even materially in control of the outcome of negotiations in many cases, as they are of course middle-persons for owners or investors — but from the perspective of those on strike action, rightly or wrongly, management are likely to be blamed for any breakdown in talks.

It’s easy to see how this can create significant toxicity in a workplace. It could damage friendships, or even significantly change career paths — or end them. And what’s more, just anticipation of workplace negativity can (as I’m sure we all know) be very stressful too. For some perhaps even more so than the actual event.

Some may ultimately strike because of peer pressure — some may fail to do so for the same reason. And some may have no choice because they simply can’t afford to make one. But plenty of people in and around the strike are not really making any choices, or are making choices from a real narrow selection.

They’re forced into those choices because of the underlying political or personal reasons for the strike action, because of financial concerns, or because of peer pressure.

These burdens are difficult for everyone. But they needn’t be.
As a community, as a society, we shouldn’t need to be in the same political tribes to be good to one another. I don’t need you to agree with me about any given issue of the day to hand you a plaster for that scrape on your knee; I’d hope you don’t need to agree with me to get me a glass of water should I be thirsty.

Likewise, I don’t feel it should really matter where we stand on a specific strike action — not when it comes being compassionate.

We can, whatever our tribes, still care for one another: by just turning up to be kind with words — or with deeds: perhaps by making nice treats or cooking up batches of soup, and heading down to the picket lines to make people feel that little bit easier and happier. Not because we necessarily agree, but because they’re human and we’re human, and no greater reason is needed to stand together.