Re: Trip

My generation has tons of musical references to trips of the psychedelic sort. We were advised to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ by LSD guru Timothy Leary. Author Aldous Huxley advocated for altered states. Television and movies at that time proliferated the conflicting ideas that getting high was either fun, instructive or a slippery slope to mania. In the United States the establishment (The Man) got so worked up about dope fiends and acid freaks that they encouraged their government to wage a war on drugs. In my dorm at Guelph University, drugs were easy to obtain in the early seventies. A fellow nicknamed Blackie was a familiar face at parties, offering a tempting collection of pretty coloured pills. My roommate partook, I resisted. The whole scene frightened me. I have a curious mind and an adventurous spirit yet turning myself over to tripping went against my need for personal control over my behaviour.

Until recently.

Growing up, the highlight of my summer was a camping trip to the beachfront of Maine. This vacation was from one to three weeks long and it marked me for life. My first fish caught with a rod, first kiss, first brush with death, first big purchase, first independent road trip and first long distance girlfriend all happened in this State. My experiences each summer welded together the things I had learned back home. Those trips contributed to my maturation process. I have magnified the importance of these holidays to such an extent that I brought my first wife and three boys to camp in the very spots I had enjoyed. When my current wife and I were planning for retirement, seeing Maine as part of an east coast residency possibility seemed like a natural trip to take.

Now I suddenly find myself at age seventy. I have travelled to many places I had only dreamed of as a youngster. Writing stories and typing pages for this blog is an intellectual trip of sorts. I continue to enjoy armchair travel with the help of film, books and magazines. Several years ago I turned on to ethnobotanist Wade Davis, whose adventurous writing captivates me. His creative reflections made me curious about Psilocybin. Likewise, Michael Pollan and Paul Stamets have added to my understanding of the regrowth of interest in tripping as a therapeutic tool.

Very interesting.

When my eldest son told me he had tried magic mushrooms. I asked if he would go on a trip with me for my 70th birthday. Quite coincidentally I discovered that Johns Hopkins University was conducting research on psychotropic medications. I signed up as a long distance participant. I felt I was ready. We chewed our dried ‘shrooms. My wife checked in on us during our journey. I tuned in, dropping out occasionally by closing my eyes to restore a sense of inner safety. I used a feather as a talisman on my vision quest. It showed me wondrous animations. I got in touch with my dead mother & sister. Why not? Who knew?

This boy will never stop learning.

Re: Panic

I have a panic room in my head and it works the opposite of a safe haven. I’ve never seen a film style panic room; where actors portraying people victimized by home invaders find sanctuary. My panic room is a room in my mind. My panic room must have doors and windows to let fresh air in. I’m only there because I have been stifled by repeating thoughts that whirl me into a panic response. My panic room door must not be locked for then a key may be lost, the key to understanding how I got there in the first place, even if the key is found the latch may be corroded, the knob broken, a sealed room of past hurts will continue to mildew with dark mold teeming with disease. No confidence can be regained whilst in the panic room of my mind.

I once helped a student take the moment necessary to come out of his panic room. Something triggered him to rise beside his desk. I called his name. He had the posture of a cornered animal. He started towards the door, tripping and falling to the floor. Students quieted as he lay there, eyes darting. It was not a seizure but some strange force had seized him. Taking advantage of his stillness I moved beside him and placed my palm lightly over his heart. His breathing calmed and his classmates remained breathless. He looked at me. He sat up. I asked his friend to accompany him to the office so the secretary could call his parents. He left for the day. It wasn’t until year’s end that he mentioned the incident and thanked me. I told him I would always remember what happened as though I had been guided: The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

I most feel panic when things seem out of order. My way seems barred. Access is being denied. I feel trapped, painted into corner, claustrophobic, breathless, suffocated. In the midst of this anxiety attack I feel there is no way out, yet why I enter there in the first place is always a mystery to me. I don’t know the why of panic’s approach, yet I’m getting better at the how of waving it goodbye.

A Yoga instructor once advised me to see disagreeable thoughts as flowing through and not lingering. Deep breathing helps. Calm may be the opposite of panic. I like the way some pronounce calm with a noticeable ‘l’. When stressed I will linger with the middle section of the word repeatedly sounding it out as ‘c-ah-m’. I’ve developed strategies as I’ve aged to minimize the risk of entering into a panic response. I have medicine that brings comfort when needed. Just knowing it’s there in the cabinet is often enough for relief. I’ve learned to visualize safe places; like a verandah with a swing. Peace is found there, sitting for a spell with a cooling lemonade, taking time to gather my thoughts, settling me into a fresh perspective.

Re: Stimulate

I can confess to being consistently stimulated by only three things; Coffee, sunshine and women. I have to be careful of too much caffeine as it makes me bobbly eyed. I once had an espresso to which I added a few tubs of caffeine concentrate at a roadside diner. I thought I was hallucinating! With sunshine I used to get nasty sunburns but now have developed the good sense to seek shade before I regret the exposure. My fascination with women however, continues to confound me. Visually beautiful and behaviourally unique, the female sex will forever stimulate my imagination. Fortunately my parents taught me the advantages of willpower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc0x7xOap4I

Our economy sometimes needs to be stimulated with various banking or government initiatives. I know nothing of finance at this global level. Whenever I hear economists talk about a stimulus package I can’t help but think of the macabre experiments we students did on frogs, using electric impulses to get their wee legs to spasm. I saw an infomercial the other day that promoted a product that stimulated your leg muscles so you could improve circulation, get out more, and, as the visuals showed (wink, wink), maybe walk your dog with that fine looking neighbour you’ve seen pass by your front porch.

Many video games I find overstimulating. I remember the first time my son asked me to try Tetris. Wow! The music, the colours, the pace put me into a hyper state and I never played again. That was back in the early days of computer graphics, now the virtual reality simulators can allow you to feel like you are actually climbing a mountain or racing a car! Interesting word, Simulator: It is Stimulator without the T. Perhaps a definition of simulate could be: lacking the truth.

I have read there is such a thing as an addictive personality. I suspect it is in your body’s chemistry and I’m glad I don’t have it. During my time in university there were many drug temptations, but I  eschewed stimulants as my thoughts were always busy anyway. My desire was to be in control, so I was afraid to get high on artificial substances. I was called a Square for not doing drugs, but I learned to live with the label. Instead of chemical tripping, I got off on the variety of dating choices on campus.

In my career as a special education teacher I often had students labelled as ADD/ADHD. These children would sometimes take medications like Ritalin to give their particular brain chemistry a stimulus. In the right dosage this drug made a huge difference to the success levels of many in my classes. I have to shake my head though when I read stories of university students who take non prescribed methylphenidate  along with caffeinated beverages to be ‘up’ for exams.

I never want to be assimilated by a fictional Borg. Resistance to stimulation is never futile since it keeps me from being manipulated. A pretty woman however, is another story.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KFvoDDs0XM

Re: Distraction

Covid Pandemic, Climate Crisis, Trumpian America, Rainy Day Mondays; are some of the persistent bad news realities of our current world. Sometimes it seems like staying in bed all day is the right choice. Logically we can’t escape from these inconvenient truths so we thrash about trying to find a distraction. Even for a moment the respite a distraction provides can seem like a holiday from inevitable doom. There is good news to find these days, but you have to be watchful. It’s also incumbent on us all not to be like Rachel Dratch’s character, Debbie Downer. We all know someone like her can be as negatively infectious as any virus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qse8erP8zEk

A friend once told me she devoted one day a week as a ‘techno-free’ 24 hours. She eschewed devices that brought her news, while choosing to distract herself by walking around town, meandering in parks, or hanging out at a coffee shop watching others. She also loved to read, my favourite distraction, and would often bring me wonderful suggestions that helped me broaden my world view. I admire these approaches to shutting out the busy world. It’s way healthier than was my sister’s distraction of choice: alcohol. There really is nothing that can make problems completely disappear, unless you are a magician.

A magician is skilled at the art of distracting the audience. This talent has been called The Art of Misdirection: While you are busy looking here, the trickster will do something over there. This brings distraction to an art form and I find it so very amusing. As a child I marvelled at the escapes of Harry Houdini. I loved watching the sleight of hand of Canadian Doug Henning and the theatrics of American illusionist David Copperfield. Recently I have been turned on to the unbelievable close-up work of the British magician called Dynamo (Steven Frayne) and stunned by master pickpocket Apollo Robbins, who is able to distract the audience so well one begins to doubt one’s own common sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

Along with word pursuits, watching others is a favourite distraction for me; bless those entertainers. Some people are distracted by the joys of cooking and eating, not me. I can lose myself in a challenging crossword and have been known to stare out to sea for great lengths of time. Thinking really is my favourite distraction. I’m contented getting lost in my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation; I just have to be aware that as I ponder, I dwell longer on positives. For example; our newspaper recently reported that in one month 170 people had died in our province from drug overdose while in that same month, in that same province, 415 births had been recorded. How does one deal with those two numbers?

People have been distracted by music throughout history. Music can bring a moment of peace, while directing our attention to a more promising land.
Curtis Mayfield led us well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE

Re: Pain

Recently I opted for some elective surgery. While in hospital, the most frequent question posed by the nurse was, “Are you experiencing pain?” This question was clarified with, “On a scale of one to ten.” Aside from coping with the real pain, this question caused stress pain. I couldn’t identify the pain level, since it varied from moment to moment. The consistency of the pain was also a factor: there was dull ache, sharp spasms, performance anxiety, all over ague, perpetual angst, stiff muscular knots and constant ringing in my ears. It was impossible to assist the nurse’s valid question because I clearly couldn’t un-sort my feelings.

When it comes to pain, I’m a baby. I can take the sight of blood or a nasty bump but when I feel a low grade headache coming on I run to the medicine cabinet. I keep all the brands of pain relievers so that I can cover all the bases when pain strikes. I think of pain as discomfort, not the, ‘Oh God I’ve just been shot!’, sort of experience. Lucky me. I’ve never had an extreme level of pain. I’ve only been in one fistfight in my life. My sparring partner proclaimed to the grade six class one day that he was going to bring ‘A whole lotta pain’ my way. My classmates witnessed the choosing of the location for the fight later that day and some even showed up to see the result. It was over in a few minutes; blows were struck, noses bloodied, honour restored. I went home after feeling manly yet bruised. I was offered an ice pack and a hot cup of tea.

Recently I’ve been enjoying the drama of a British TV series, Call the Midwife.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tY0eUynAOY . The episodes have renewed my respectful belief that I could never give birth to a child. In reality, I’ve been a father to three sons, watching my wife handle the painful moments of childbirth. Now each time I saw a mother crying out to the television midwives I’ve moved into the room with them, almost becoming them, as though they hold a painful memory. Yet after the TV birth there is joy! How can this be? I’d picture myself immediately asking for knock-out drops.

We use the word Pain in our language frequently. Someone at the office is a ‘Pain in the Neck’ or worse, ‘A Pain in the Butt’. When we were bringing bad news we used to lead into the announcement by saying, “I’m pained to say this…”. Most country songs are about painful breakups or loss. This kind of emotional pain is surely at the heart of the OXY crisis.
https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/marilyn-bulloch-pharmd-bcps/2018/08/how-oxycodone-has-contributed-to-the-opioid-epidemic

Even though I am British born I find it hard most times to offer a stiff upper lip to discomfort. I will take an easy fix, just as long as it comes over the counter and is medically tested. I hope I never know what real pain is.

Re: Relief

“Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh what a relief it is.”

If only other forms of relief came this easily. Tummy troubles are one thing yet I have an atmospheric feeling that there are currently so many troubled people in this world that relief may be hard to find and a long way off.

My daughter-in-law recently gave birth to a premature baby, my second grandchild. After they both returned from hospital, safe and healthy, I asked her what her first thought was as she held her child. She said, “Relief.” Her head had been spinning with tension of the event and the wave of relief, that her babe was now well, filled her consciousness. I was relieved that I could be nearby.

In my youth the idea of being a relief worker had certain attraction. Red Cross, CUSO, OXFAM, CARE were all possibilities back then to anyone who had wishes to provide humanitarian support to the globe’s needy. As a teen I only thought of relief in terms of the dramatic: helicopters, food drops and maybe the blue berets of the United Nations mobilizing to save lives in crisis.

Our games recognize the need for relief. For example, wrestling has its tag teams. Football has defensive and offensive lines. Baseball coaches send in a relief pitcher when the starter underperforms. Religion respects the need for relieving our worries. When we are feeling guilty about something it is helpful to be told that we have not been responsible or that someone has taken that sin from us. With the burden removed we walk taller and with more assurance.

Most times relief is easy to find; a cool shower, some shade, a friend who listens, a drink of water, aspirin, an answer to a question, sleep, a good book, music, a meal. Often, however, life is so layered with complications that it is hard to figure out what might bring us relief, so instead we numb the pain. Or we try to take it away all together by attempting suicide.

I’m not very patient with pain. My medicine cabinet is stocked with whatever I can acquire to be there for me when a part of my body protests over the normal stresses of life. I try to keep my complaints to myself because they are minor. I feel fortunate everyday that I don’t have a chronic condition. I have visited a psychiatrist who admits his specialty is more related to pain management than a specific DSM-5 condition. He understands that there is pain in anxiety as our body responds to the stress of living.

Drug use is at crisis levels in North America, as people turn to physicians, or failing that, the street, to cope with the pain of life. Reasonable people, denied access to medication that once brought relief are seeking other ways to chemically address their symptoms. Many die taking these problems to the underground economy, where relevant controlled dose measures are not part of the deal.

Buyer Beware!