Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, November 10, 2019

Time to quit the denial game

You’re in your car, let’s say. You pull up to the intersection. You stop. You look both ways. The road seems clear. You pull ahead and --

            Ka-wham! An enormous force smashes into you. You’re spun around, tossed like a rag doll in a Rottweiler’s jaws. You look up at the radiator of the logging truck that’s crushing your car, and you, into a cube of crumpled metal. Just before a black wave of pain and shock washes over your senses, you ask yourself: “Why didn’t I see that coming?”

            A car crash serves as a metaphor for other shocks.

            The firm where you’ve worked loyally for 35 years tells you to clear out your desk. Turn in your tools. Collect your last paycheque. Profits have fallen, they reason; they have to make cuts somewhere.

            Or your spouse hands you a package of divorce papers.

            Or your doctor looks at the test results, sucks her teeth, and says, “It’s cancer. Stage IV already…”

            At times like these, your first reaction is often, “Why didn’t I see it coming?” How could I miss the warning signs? How did I kid myself that even if I saw the signs, they wouldn’t affect me?


Scientific consensus

            Thirty years from now, I imagine a lot of people will look back at the early decades of this millennium and ask themselves those same questions.

            Last week, 11,000 scientists from 153 nations signed a warning about a climate emergency in the professional journal BioScience. (Read the article at https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/advance-article/doi/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806. It’s easier to read than you might expect!)

            Warnings about global warming, greenhouse gases, and fossil fuel use have been coming for 40 years now, since the first world climate conference held in Geneva in 1979. Since then, BioScience notes, “similar alarms have been made through the 1992 Rio Summit, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as scores of other global assemblies and scientists’ explicit warnings of insufficient progress…”

            In fact, warnings have been coming for far longer. In 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth. And away back in 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that world population growth would eventually outstrip resources.

            In schools of economics, Malthus’s reasoning has become “a target for mockery,” claimed an article in Scientific American. He failed to account for, the article says, advances in technology, education, and medicine, with “public health, family planning, and modern contraception, which together with urbanization and other trends, would result in a dramatic decline in fertility rates” -- at least among the industrialized nations.

            The BioScience report, by contrast, does not ignore any of these factors. It evaluates “sustained increases in both human and ruminant livestock populations, per capita meat production, world gross domestic product, global tree cover loss, fossil fuel consumption, the number of air passengers carried, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and per capita CO2emissions…

            “Encouraging signs include decreases in global fertility (birth) rates, decelerated forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon [until this year], increases in the consumption of solar and wind power, [and] institutional fossil fuel divestment…”

            It is, in other words, a comprehensive overview.


Evidence based

            Deniers -- those who cannot see the logging truck coming -- will argue that only a few of the 11,000 scientists are climate specialists, and that the others therefore have no better qualifications than ordinary people like you and me.

            Maybe so. But they are scientists. They are accustomed to evaluating evidence. They have access to more evidence than ordinary people do.

            From what I can see, the consensus among scientists on climate change is greater than for any other issue in scientific history. Many scientists did not hail theories of gravity, relativity, sub-atomic quanta, and DNA with unequivocal glee.

            But I gather that over 97% now agree that the world’s weather is changing. And that the primary cause is anthropogenic -- that is, us.

            Further, they agree that the rate of change is accelerating. Early predictions grossly underestimated the rate of Arctic warming, glacier and permafrost melting, and ocean levels rising.

            I expect that some people will continue denying climate change until several island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans are underwater. Until subway systems in New York and London are navigable only by submarines. Until insuring your house against damage from floods, fires, typhoons, and tornados becomes prohibitively expensive -- as is already happening in California.

            They can’t or won’t see the onrushing truck until it’s too late.

            By then, I won’t be around to say, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Once again, I got lots and lots of mail about last week’s column, in which I wrote about a TGA (Transient Global Amnesia) episode. Many of you offered sympathy. Several expressed thanks for being willing to share a disquieting experience.

            Quite a few shared their own similar experiences. Of those, roughly half said their comments were not for publication, or were only to be published anonymously. Their reluctance to have their names attached suggests to me that mental issues still carry a stigma.

            Therefore, I’m going to treat everyone as anonymous this time.


Male: About ten years ago, the cardiologists had me wear a Holter monitor. I lay down on the sofa after lunch and fell asleep. When I awoke, I was really confused. I could not understand what the thing hanging from my neck was, nor could I remember having a nap. My wife called 9-1-1. By the time we got to the hospital, it had all cleared up. But to this day I have no memory of that period. It was diagnosed as a TIA [a mini-stroke: JT]. It has never reccurred but I sure know what you are talking about.


Female: I had never heard of TGA. I’ve looked it up and now have a better understanding. I have heard of TIAs. My Mum, who was so smart and so wise, experienced TIAs in her later years. She described to me, after one incident, how frightening it was to not understand the world around her -- to be perplexed by how her things got moved to this new reality without her knowledge. (She was still living in the same place but no longer recognized it as home.) Mum has always been very much in control and was terrified by this.


Male: I have experienced what you described a couple of times. First episode a couple of years ago. Out in the hills with a friend, I lost awareness for about 15 minutes. When I came around I did not know my name, if I had a job, or where I lived. Seems I have arrhythmia in a valve and a small clot caused the problem. I am now on blood thinners.”


Female: Someone called it a “brain-fart.” Not elegant, but descriptive.


Male: Can you picture a person with schizophrenia, bouncing from one situation to the next without memory of the last. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try and help a person in such a situation.

            I don’t think any of us is completely sane. We all have our quirks, our biases, our beliefs, which -- judged by anyone else who doesn’t know us -- might imply we are mentally ill.


Male: I have lived with chronic depression since my late teens. It messed up my university education. It has messed up my occupations (ministry and other things). And it messes up my life in retirement. But it did not mess things up enough for people to really notice or identify the problem.

            I didn't talk about it because I didn't want to (potentially) frighten people. (You noted the uneasiness family, friends, and others had, or have, with mental illness.) Besides, my health is my concern and no concern of anyone else, unless it affects them. It has only been gradually that I have been willing to talk with many others about this.

            But it has made me profoundly sensitive to others who live with mental illness, particularly those who struggle with life as a result. And it leads me to help where I can.


Female: Losing one's left-brain dominance that way is upsetting, even for a short time. Unless the left-brain is dominant, the brain cannot embed memories. "Memory" where the left-brain retrieves experiences from the right-brain, requires integration.

            Your incident could have happened to anyone and is likely far more common than you realize.


Female: I looked up what the Mayo Clinic had to say about TGA. I picked "acute emotional distress" as the trigger point. Given how you describe yourself reacting to Joan’s prognosis -- cool, calm, collected.....NOT! We humans don't work that way.

            I wouldn't call your TGA a mental illness. All the other ones you listed are. I would say this was simply a delayed situational reaction.


Male:I for one would not worry about your TGA. Everyone should experience such things at least once for the sake of a full life. That was the attraction of hallucinogens back in the Sixties. For my part, I was “psychotic” for about two weeks once. Still unexplained, obvious “psychiatric” causes ruled out. Maybe due to pneumonia, maybe culture shock, maybe the reaction to some mediation. It was not fun. Now I know what hell feels like.

            People with actual psychiatric diagnoses as depression, autism, schizophrenia, or manic depression (“bipolar disorder”), they are in fact less likely to be violent than the general population. They certainly are not going to be mass murderers or serial killers: to do either involves a level of conscious planning and initiative that is incompatible with real mental illness.


Female: FYI, autism is not an illness but a developmental disorder from birth that is part (like Down Syndrome) of who the person is. Three people in my family and more in my circle of friends are on the autism spectrum. Autism affects interactions with other people, and how sensory stimulation is processed. Each person on the spectrum has unique issues that sometimes can be mitigated by medication but will never 'cure' the person.

            On the other hand, mental illness takes away from who the person is. It can come and go and its strangeness, sadly, does affect how we relate to people with it. We need much more understanding for both conditions.


Female: Thanks for this column. It really bothers me the way some people dementia, as if they can do anything about it. I keep saying "it could be any of us". I am an old nurse so maybe I understand a bit better.


Female: I had a slightly similar incident years ago at work. I'd been writing a document all morning, getting ready for a meeting. By the time my colleagues arrived, I felt weird. When I picked up the document I could read it, I knew I had written it, but I had no sense of recognition. That meeting ended abruptly.

            The neurologist I consulted later said he figured it was a silent migraine - no pain and no visual disturbances (that's the silent part), but a reduction of blood flow to the memory part of the brain. He said folks sometimes come into the Emergency Room disoriented but with virtually no other symptoms (maybe elevated blood pressure) and doctors often assume it's drug use.


Female: Mental illness! The words haunt me --- I had the misfortune to marry a man 16 years after my first husband died. {Before that marriage] I knew him for at least 5 years, knew he as a kind and caring man. Yet in the long run no one ever treated me with more hate and meanness than this man. He would not admit or recognize that he was ill.


Female: It took courage to write about your moment of mental malfunctioning. It took me years to openly talk about it. I compared it to a needle on an old record that got stuck and didn’t know how to ‘unstick’ itself. The issue at the time was a thyroid problem that eventually was treated properly.

            Fast forward thirty years, in hindsight, the biggest item has been the lack of understanding from the people I came in contact with. Indeed, it is easier to break a leg.


Male: I've had 3 episodes of TGA over the past 12 years. The first lasted about 12 hrs. During that time I had supper, went to my club, played racquetball, took a phone call, had a beer, and drove home. When I arrived home my wife knew something was amiss and took me to emerg. Diagnosed with TGA and do not recall any of it. The other 2 episodes were shorter. I have since talked to two friends who also experienced TGA but until I revealed my situation they had never said anything about theirs. As you state in your column, people are still apprehensive about being viewed as "not normal".


Male: I have deeper respect for you for sharing the story of that "lost morning". I have come through a long series of seizures, none of which I was aware of, and am feeling truly blessed now that the neurologists have found medication that is working well.


Female: Congratulations on having the courage to disclose your TGA publicly so others can learn about it should they one day have the same experience.  There is no reason for anyone to think less of you. It could happen to anyone. I feel sure it has happened to me more than once, but unlike you, I never revealed it to anyone. That takes courage. So take pride in the fact you have bravely opened the door today to many others.






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