Sunday, 4 October 2020

Some take the road with a forced smile

A set of doors separates your body's cells from your blood. These doors need to be unlocked in order for glucose to gain entry. Insulin carries the keys. It unlocks the doors all day long, so that every time the level of glucose in your blood rises, some can be pushed out of your blood and into your body's cells, bringing the level in the blood back down. This keeps glucose levels stable. Being crippled as he was, Eric was guaranteed an unrestricted supply of opioid pain killers, which did their all-too common evil and led to heroin use. We know how this story can go. As sweet and caring as Eric could be, the heroin simply consumed him. Eric often said that heroin was like the devil stealing his soul. He fought hard to resist it and submitted to numerous cycles of detox and rehab, up to six months straight sometimes. Then he'd enjoy another year of sobriety before something would happen, triggering a relapse. Through all of his struggles and the associated burdens of shame and guilt, Eric battled the odds to remain the young man we knew and loved? With those he loved, especially his cherished family, Eric was a protector, but when it came to his own life, he wasn't able to figure out how to protect himself. We tried everything aimed at reversing his behavior, but as we realized--maybe too late--the situation was out of our control. As we watched Eric slip further and further away, we struggled with helplessness. In English, if you want to say tomorrow is going to be a cold day, you can either just say that, or you can say `tomorrow will be cold'. The rules of the language require you to use a future tense. But in German, you can simply say, `morgen ist kalt': literally, `tomorrow is cold'. Although German does have a future tense, the Germans have sussed that there's no need to use it in this case, as in many others, as the word tomorrow implies the future anyway. Other languages that work something like this include Mandarin, Finnish and Estonian.

Collectively they are known as `weak future-time languages'. By contrast, English - and other languages, such as French - are called `strong future-time languages'. It's a fascinating area of study in all sorts of ways, but the important part for our purposes is that it's argued that people who speak languages where the future is emphasised tend to feel the future is further away. And we know what that can mean for saving. Perhaps this seems a bit far-fetched, but the research has been done and the evidence has been gathered. I'd unwittingly pilfered her phrase. Chodron wrote that cool loneliness is the vigilant practice of `less desire' and avoiding `unnecessary activity'. And `not seeking security from one's discursive thoughts'. It's spacious, it's not desperate, it's totally cool. Goddamn I'm sick of feeling so hot. So since I reckon we must all be on the same article about being adult, I will share that as I approached the end of this journey, I fell pregnant again, aged forty-five. It was the regular way this time - a friend generously `helped me out'. It was also a very strong pregnancy; I had morning sickness that left me confined to the bathroom. Then my bipolar flared, like really flared. If insulin ever loses its keys, it can't unlock the doors and glucose can't move out of your blood and into your body's cells. It gathers in the blood and its level rises. When insulin loses its keys, we call it insulin resistance. In the context of a short and sweet stress response, it can save your life. If insulin resistance overstays its welcome and becomes your perpetual state, then instead of saving your life, it may shorten it.

Insulin resistance often occurs hand in hand with central obesity (fat accumulation around the middle) and high blood pressure. When they happen together, they are referred to collectively as metabolic syndrome, partly because they are a consequence of metabolism going awry. You might know of people who used to be slim and fit at the start of adulthood, but have since led stressful lives and lost their vigor at a rate that is disproportionate to normal aging. They may now be overweight, they may be carrying excess fat around their middle--what is sometimes referred to as middle-aged spread--and they may be under surveillance from their physician because their blood sugar levels and blood pressure are rising and their cholesterol levels are not looking good. In parallel with these changes, they may be experiencing subtle changes in mental clarity, mood, and even mental performance. Despite being determined to stay positive and hopeful, the truth was, on many days, feeling empty from worry and fear, we were just happy he was still alive. That was our daily goal? This wasn't just about keeping him off drugs; For years, we gave him money, put him in and out of rehab, and took him to doctors, believing that someday it was going to get better and Eric would be okay. I suffered through an emotional kaleidoscope of guilt and remorse. I was not in denial and even though I did not always know what to do, I was willing to accept that we had a life-threatening problem and had to try whatever we could to fix it. I wasn't a good candidate for the tough love approach, like throwing your kid out on the street to sober him up, because if I had done something like that and it had killed him, how would I have survived? Of course, questions persisted. Did we go to the right rehab? Should I have gotten him there sooner? UCLA economics professor Keith Chen compared saving rates in 76 different countries and, controlling for unemployment, growth, interest rates and level of development in each nation found that people who speak languages with weak future-time references, pay into their savings twice as often as people in countries speaking strong future-time reference languages, and partly as a result no doubt, when taken all together, people in those countries save 6 per cent more of their per capita GDP. As ever, there were some exceptions to the general findings. The Russian Federation, Ireland and the Czech Republic all speak languages where the future tense is emphasised, yet come quite close to the top of the savings chart. Meanwhile, in polyglot Ethiopia, where people speak three `strong' languages and three `weak' languages, there was a really fascinating statistical result, as it turned out that the language people spoke was a better predictor of how much they saved than the strength of their belief in the importance of saving. Of course, since these kinds of studies only began towards the end of the twentieth century, we can't know which came first - the way that language is used or people's orientation towards the future.

Perhaps it was future-mindedness that led to the use of such language in the first place, and so the language reflects rather than influences attitudes towards the future. Nonetheless this research does highlight that our culture can have an impact on attitudes towards savings, even when other factors are taken into account. Which might lead you to think that I'm about to advise moving countries as a strategy for people who are bad at saving. But of course a spendthrift Brit would have to do more than move to Germany if he or she wanted to be more careful with money. They'd have to speak, and more importantly think, like a typical German. I was dangerously manic and didn't sleep. My thyroid turned furious and my health spiralled. My endocrine system was fighting for its life in such a way that I knew it would take years and years to recover. I know the signs now; I have had to rebuild my health before. It took almost a decade last time. I was also alone. I had hot loneliness coursing through me. And I was terrified. I had fought to be a mother and had grieved three miscarriages by this point. These may be early signs of metabolic syndrome. There is an emerging link between chronic stress and insulin resistance. Chronic stress has been shown to bring on a state of insulin resistance in rats with as little as a few hours of stress exposure every day for two weeks. Instead, we can look at groups of people in real life, map their stress levels, and see if there is a correlation with insulin resistance. When 234 police officers were followed over a five-year period, those with higher stress levels were at an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

This feeling can be quantified as the effort reward imbalance ratio (ERI). The larger the ERI, the less perceived reward there is for effort. A study on 1,441 German workers found a positive association between the ERI score and suffering from metabolic syndrome. The association was stronger for younger employees and for male workers. If they had a high ERI score and were also inflamed, their risk increased even more. Should I have done this? Should I have done that? The list of should-haves was endless. I came to the conclusion that the list of things I was doing right was bigger than the list of things I did wrong. I could only focus on showing Eric unconditional love. Surrender happened at some point, accepting that not everything was in our control, no matter how smart we are, no matter how much money we have in our bank account, no matter how much we're loving and open and intelligent. When it comes to a disease, and this world of addiction and chemicals and the brain, we have to surrender to the fact that there is no one person, no one, who can be in full control of that. As Eric continued to spiral, I told my husband, Greg, that I just didn't think he was going to make it. You kind of know it in your heart, like lots of things moms know in their heart, and dads, too. We didn't want to accept the fact that maybe our child was not going to make it, so we worked extra hard to keep him alive and doing relatively well. So taking this course is not very realistic. Still, if emigrating is a bit of a stretch, how about moving your money instead of yourself? One curious study suggests there might be something in it. In 2013 Sam Maglio, a social psychologist, set out to investigate whether people made different financial decisions depending on whether the money they were discussing was geographically near or far from them. This may sound odd, but bear with me.

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