the article that could save lives (or at least prevent some pain)

No, this is nothing to do with magic cure-alls, silver bullets or even preventative lifestyle advice. And it’s certainly not an article I wrote, but one I chanced upon.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I went into the staff tea room for my ten-minute morning tea break, and found a print-out copy of this article on the table: When Evidence Says No, but Doctors Say Yes (by David Epstein & Propublica, published by The Atlantic on February 22, 2017). I was intrigued, and started reading.

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what you see is not what you see

When I attended that talk about creativity as part of the World Science Festival several weeks ago, I arrived at the lecture theatre quite early (as I do). As I sat and waited for the talk to begin, I watched the slide show of random interesting facts that they had playing. One of these facts was about how we blink so often, that we spend about 10% of our time awake with our eyes closed.

Since then, I’ve thought intermittently about this – perhaps while sitting at a computer, thinking that we blink less while staring at screens of some sort; or perhaps while out and about in the world, and wondering about all the details that I’m missing by inadvertently having my eyes closed 10% of the time – but I always reasoned that it couldn’t be that significant a loss, since it’s not like we have our eyes closed for entire blocks at a time (say, for example, 6 minutes at the start of every hour) and then keep our eyes open the rest of the time. And because blinking takes next to no time at all, and it’s so spread out, we’re not really losing anything in our experience of the world, right?

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shared spaces

Ok, I’m going to write about this because I said I would, and it’s been over a week, and by the time this is scheduled to be published, it will have been two weeks, so I’m just gonna do it now.

At some time around the middle of March, I went to a panel discussion about women in architecture. I actually do remember seeing an ad for the talk somewhere, sometime ago, but I don’t know much about architecture, and I don’t have any specific interest in architecture, so, although I thought it might be interesting, I didn’t think about going. As it so happened, an architect friend of mine, who was going to go to the talk, and had tickets for it, sent out a group message the morning of the event, advising that she could no longer attend, and offering her tickets to whoever wished to take them.

This also happened to be the opening week-end of Brewsvegas as well as the final day of the World Science Festival, and I’d be out and about anyway, so, without really thinking about it, I accepted her offer, and she emailed the tickets over to me. After the eye-opening experience of attending one of the World Science Festival talks, I was pretty keen to see what insight this talk could give me. The event was also loosely tied in with International Women’s Day, which, if I remember correctly, had been the week before (?), and I thought that, if nothing else, my attendance would sort of be like a show of support for female architects.  Continue reading

a summary of findings

I get quite a buzz whenever I encounter anything very thought-provoking – whether it be another blog, a novel, a quote, or, as was the case on the week-end, a talk. More specifically, it was a panel discussion that was part of the World Science Festival. (I also randomly attended one that was kind of linked to International Women’s Day, but it might be a while before I get around to posting about it.)

I went to this talk/discussion/whatever-you-want-to-call-it on Saturday, and I’ve been thinking about what they discussed, and I’ve realised that there is so much that I want to write about. And what a wonderful feeling that is!

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I am a bit of a nerd. Now, I know that’s not really much of a revelation, but what is, is that I sometimes go through days, and even weeks, when I don’t feel like learning about things, or doing anything for the betterment of my education. When I was finishing up at uni, in my final year of Pharmacy, I thought that I could easily return to student life, and that I would be able to do so with the same enthusiasm I somehow maintained for four years through a degree that everyone else seemed to complain incessantly about. (I’m just kidding – it wasn’t that bad. The complaining, that is.)

But after finishing my internship, and working full-time for a while, and discovering all these wonderful things I could do outside of work now that I had a full-time job – after all that I just couldn’t picture myself going back to uni again. Certainly not as a full-time student, anyway. And somewhere along the line, my lust for learning seems to have tarnished somewhat.

However, when, earlier in the year, I heard that the World Science Festival was coming to Brisbane, I got pretty excited. And then I wondered what on earth the World Science Festival actually was…

Well, as it turns out, it’s a bunch of talks and exhibits and things, involving renowned science people from around the world, converging in one place to disseminate knowledge to the masses. (Sorry, I’m not sure why I’m being so wordy tonight. Perhaps attending the WSF has inflated my sense of my own intelligence.)

Scrolling through the events list, one that immediately caught my eye was the so-called “signature event” titled “Madness redefined: Creativity, intelligence and the dark side of the mind”. As one speaker on the day pointed out, it’s not the most politically correct title, but it certainly is intriguing.

I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness (self-diagnoses and jocular ones from friends don’t count), but I do have a fascination with all things related to the inner workings of the mind. I would also like to think, if I am permitted to do so without seeming immodest, that I am, in some way, creative and also intelligent; so I thought for sure this would be the one event I had to go to. And it did not disappoint.

And to think that I almost didn’t go because I had to pay $30 to attend! Perhaps I’m too used to feeling like education should be free (what with HECS or HELP or whatever they’re calling it now – that government loan thing that means we don’t have to pay for uni until after we’ve graduated and have secured a job that pays enough to pay the government).

So today, on a whim (but also quite determinedly), I went to the Convention Centre where the talk was to be held, and I bought myself a ticket, and I sat down in this auditorium full of, presumably, other nerds, and maybe people with various mental illnesses, and people who would wish to be considered creative.

Buying my ticket (I’m surprised it wasn’t sold out), I was feeling good that I was doing something for myself – something to improve that aspect of my life that has been a bit neglected lately. Despite being worried that my attention and concentration wouldn’t hold out for the 90 minutes that the talk was scheduled for (not to say anything of my stomach, as the talk was 12pm, and I hadn’t had a chance to acquire any food beforehand), sitting in the auditorium, waiting for the talk to start, I felt some of that enthusiasm and eagerness for learning that I’d had back in my uni days.

To be fair, the Pharmaceutical Society have held some very interesting lectures and workshops, in the years that I’ve been a member, that have evoked this same sort of feeling; so it wasn’t special in this sense. As good as it was, it probably still wasn’t enough to make me want to go back to uni and complete a second degree, so it wasn’t revelatory in this way either.

What struck me the most was actually a feeling very similar to one that I got from attending The Script’s concert last year: it was this wonder and awe that there were so many other people (complete strangers!) that had come together in this one space because of a shared interest. That is an incredible feeling. I suppose it’s almost like belonging and anonymity mixed together.

And as for the actual content of the talk, I’m still ruminating on that, so it’ll have to be a separate post.

of the mind

Alright, so I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, and it seems like tonight will be the night! By “a while” I don’t mean just this last week (the absence of posts thus far this week is a result of me being busy/lazy). I was actually thinking about this a few weeks ago, and then never got around to actually writing about it because I kept forgetting about it when I sat down to write a post (I’m not a very organised sort of blogger, as you might be able to tell from the erratic posting of random topics), or I kept putting it off.

Where I work, I have a lot of colleagues. As such, I assume that it is by chance that, in any given week, at least one person will be feeling unwell in some way, or will actually call in sick and take the day off. Ok, that’s probably a bit dramatic or exaggerated, but that’s what it’s felt like recently. I’m not complaining or whining – that’s just how it is. Like I said, it’s probably more by chance or probability or something.

Well, not to gloat or anything, but I’ve never had a sick day from work in the three years that I’ve been full-time here (let’s hope I don’t jinx it now!). It’s one of the downsides of having a good immune system and not engaging in dangerous activities: I’ll never get paid the sick leave I’m technically entitled to. But, whatever, I don’t really care about that.

A friend then suggested, helpfully, that I could take a “mental health day”, which is like taking the day off to recover from a physical ailment, except that it’s actually, well, a mental ailment. Say, for example, if you just feel really unmotivated to do anything, or if you’re just really frustrated and you feel like if you go to work, you’ll go insane, or maybe have a breakdown, then you’d take a “mental health day”. I actually like the idea of it, and think it’s as valid a reason as any to take the day off (particularly if you’re on the verge of a breakdown).

But when I think about the practical side of actually doing this, I’m not so sure that it would be so well-received by upper management…

Since everyone’s taken their turns being sick, I’ve kind of developed a mental catalogue of reasons why people call in sick (or get sent home sick, as the case may be). Being in such proximity to doctors’ rooms and a hospital, anything that’s infectious becomes an issue that could lead to someone having the day off: cold/flu, food poisoning, eye infections, etc. A lot of people reckon that diarrhoea is a good excuse to use because no one is going to want to ask for more details about that. And then, of course, there’s pain: migraines, back pain, cramping, etc.

Whatever the excuse, most of the time it’s legitimate; I’m not doubting that. The issue is that if someone called up the HR manager one day and said “I don’t think I can make it in to work today because I just have zero drive to do anything, and even the thought of getting out of bed seems meaningless” – I don’t think that’d go down too well… Not that the HR guy is cold-hearted or whatever, but I’d be surprised if he’s ever taken that sort of a call from an employee.

But despite all the controversies (Is depression over-diagnosed? Are anti-depressants and anxiolytics over-prescribed? Do drug companies make up variations/sub-types of psychiatric conditions in order to sell more drugs?), any educated human being could understand and accept that depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc are all real conditions. Then why do people have to use another excuse (a physical ailment) when they take a “mental health day”? (The friend who originally suggested it is not the only one who thinks it’s a good idea – just don’t be so upfront about the reason.)

And I know that Major Depression is pretty serious, and of course there’s a difference between a clinically diagnosable condition and just “feeling down” now and then. But just because it doesn’t fit the duration criteria for diagnosis, doesn’t make it less valid – you could still fulfill all of the other criteria/descriptors.

If anyone reading this thinks that I’m going to try to use this logic to rort the sick leave system, rest assured that I don’t have any intentions of doing so, nor do I encourage or condone it (since abusing the system would belittle these mental health conditions). These are just random thoughts about the disparity between mental and physical illness.