For the fifth year running I am delighted to be a contributor to Earth Pathways Diary. This is so much more than a diary. It’s a beautiful collection of inspiring and heartwarming art and writing. Two pieces of my writing are included in the 2021 diary. I am selling copies for £14.50 each plus £3.50 postage and packing. I can take payment via my PayPal link here. Please confirm your delivery address in the message. In the past I’ve had an issue with diaries going astray due to people forgetting to update their address on PayPal.
The Ironic Tragedy of Conspiracy Theory
The attraction of conspiracy theories is, unsurprisingly, strongest when people feel disempowered. However, conspiracy theories don’t restore a feeling of control, but actually make people feel more disempowered and unable to free themselves, reducing the likelihood of political or empowering action. The problem is power and control.
However unlikely, unrealistic or paranoid the conspiracy theories might be, the conspiracy theorists correctly perceive they are disempowered. Tragically, their beliefs work in favour of those who have power over them, alienating the majority, who then continue to accept a system that controls people. Conspiracy theorists reject conventional science even when that scientific knowledge would benefit them, because it is all seen as the tool of authority and control, not realising that they may be playing into the hands of those wanting to maintain economic or political power. Knowledge is power. Ironically, conspiracy theories then become a form of self-oppression. Conspiracy theories keep people distracted from the true sources of disempowerment, focusing on arguments that fail to restore any real and significant control over their lives. When their theories are patently false, the result is that the population dismisses their concerns outright and mocks them as fools. Those in power may even promote or secretly support the spread of populist ideas that reject conventional science, in order to win support from those they have power over, and to push their own agendas that may clash with scientific advice. The problem is power and control.
“…conspiracy belief is strongly related to lack of sociopolitical control or lack of psychological empowerment (Bruder et al., 2013). Experiments have shown that compared with baseline conditions, conspiracy belief is heightened when people feel unable to control outcomes and is reduced when their sense of control is affirmed…exposure to conspiracy theories appears to immediately suppress people’s sense of autonomy and control (Douglas & Leite, 2017; Jolley & Douglas, 2014a, 2014b). These same studies have also shown that it makes people less inclined to take actions that, in the long run, might boost their autonomy and control. Specifically, they are less inclined to commit to their organizations and to engage in mainstream political processes such as voting and party politics.”The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories
Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, and Aleksandra Cichocka
School of Psychology, University of Kent
The conspiracy theorists’ certainty that they are being played by the system makes it almost impossible to work through any logical or rational scientific argument with them, as that is not the true source of the problem. The problem is that any argument against them is made using the sources that they feel they cannot trust. The scientists that they believe are working for the government or economic power. The problem is power and control.
The grain of truth in conspiracy theories is that the population is manipulated for economic power, and that all endeavours that cost money in a capitalist society are vulnerable to being influenced by those with financial control. Wealth is power. Information, even when genuine and accurately sourced, can be manipulated and selectively presented to suit an agenda. It takes a lot of critical thinking to work through these layers. The problem is power and control.
The Last Word On A Flat Earth
I don't want to believe that the earth's a sphere.
I want to believe that what I see here
before me is real. I believe in what I feel.
I don't want to believe that the earth is round,
that we can fly to the moon.
I need to keep my feet on the ground.
Please don't try to cut my anchor loose.
I don't trust you wankers to tell me the truth.
Is the view good from up there?
You can see a long way when you're stood on my back.
All I can see is red, and the threadbare rug.
For most of my life I’ve been trying not to crack.
Don't you dare try to pull what's left from under me.
My sense of reality is under attack.
I don’t want to be bombarded with more and more facts.
Deep down we all know we’re being played.
I’m feeling betrayed, and I’ve got no reason
to trust in expertise. I’m down on my knees here.
So, I’ll fight to retrieve some kind of control.
You stole my life but you won’t get my soul.
I’ve got a spade you know. I’ll dig my own hole.
©️Janey Colbourne 2020
I wrote this before lockdown, for the Blackburn College Small Stories Poetry Slam, on the theme of War. The event had to be postponed due to the covid outbreak. This poem is about the horrors of being a refugee. Imagine adding covid to this.
Child of War
Sorry to be a bore, taking your attention from more
entertaining sights than the plight of this child,
trapped in a war zone, trying to survive, alone and afraid,
both his parents slaughtered in a bombing raid.
Brutalised, growing cold and numb to the mutilated
bodies piled up, perhaps recruited as a child soldier,
he might make it through to adulthood,
but he’ll never be the same, never see the world as safe and good again.
Forgive my lack of insight if I can’t comprehend
why it’s right to sell arms but wrong to flee from harm,
to be a refugee, hoping to take your child to safety,
but the only route you can see to freedom is the raging sea.
When the night freezes, you keep her warm or she dies.
And all you have to give is your own half-starved flesh.
Those deep loving eyes will make you weep,
as you wonder if they’ll see another sunrise.
Is it crazy to leap if your home is ablaze?
When the only world you’ve ever known is razed to the ground.
When your friends and your neighbourhood are blown to bits.
And your wife sits with your last remaining child to her breast and prays
that your lives will not be next. There is no rest in this place. No respite. No calm.
When that small trusting face turns her gaze upon you, there is no peace.
In the momentary ceasefire just before the dawn, you must decide.
Would you stay? Or would you bundle her in blankets and run away?
©️Janey Colbourne 2020
I’ve been living with long-tail covid symptoms for three and a half months now. I’d like to share some of the things that have been helpful to me so far. Not miracle cures, obviously, but supplements, herbs, strategies and perspectives that helped to relieve symptoms, or made it easier to cope. This isn’t medical advice, but sharing my own experience, and of course, everyone is different and may have different medical needs. I’ve been very cautious, especially in the early days, as this was a new and unknown virus. I stuck to simple strategies, and because I have no thyroid, and am on thyroxine, I have to watch out for drug interactions. Bearing that in mind, here are some of the things I found useful, that are generally speaking, safe (but do your own research/get professional advice!)
Vitamin C with zinc
I have been using the effervescent form as it was easier to take, felt refreshing and easy to absorb. I’ve not experimented with mega dosing. Very high doses of Vitamin C can cause diarrhoea. Also, I didn’t want to overdose on zinc. I’ve been taking 1000mg Vit C with 15mg zinc. Occasionally I had two in a day. I didn’t start taking this until several weeks in. It might have been useful to start sooner! I didn’t get a dramatic improvement in symptoms but I definitely felt a difference in my energy levels.
I was diagnosed deficient in Vitamin D before I got ill, so I’ve been taking a bit of a higher dose than the average recommended dose. It is possible to overdose on Vitamin D, although a lot of people in the UK climate can have a lack of it. Again, I like the effervescent one. I’ve also been sitting out in the sun to top up my vitamin D, and felt better for it, although there were some days when it felt too uncomfortable to get hot. Go with your instincts on this one.
This is a supplement that is a naturally occurring nutrient. It’s particularly needed by body systems that use a lot of energy, such as the circulatory system and immune system. Older people tend to have lower levels of it in our bodies than young people. I’ve used it before for palpitations and fatigue. I take up to 100mg a day. It can be a bit pricey, but you can sometimes find special offers.
I’m taking hawthorn tincture, but you can also by tablets and tea, or of course pick your own flowers and berries, if you’re clear on identification. It’s a safe remedy and one I think of as a nourishing herb. It’s beneficial to the heart and blood vessels. It helps to balance blood pressure, and in my former life as a medical herbalist I had great success using it to reduce high blood pressure. It helps to improve the heart’s pumping efficiency, and the health of the blood vessels, so there is less strain on the system. Since taking it my heart rate and blood pressure have normalised and I’m having significantly fewer palpitations. It’s also gently relaxing.
Thyme is antibacterial and antispasmodic so it helps to prevent and treat secondary bacterial infections and relaxes the breathing. I’ve not had a miracle cure of breathlessness with this, but it’s certainly helped, and after two course of antibiotics I kept taking it to prevent recurrence. The dried herb makes a surprisingly nice tea, with a bit of honey. And I use it lots in cooking. There is also thyme product called Bronchostop, available as pastilles or syrup, sold in pharmacies.
Astragalus is an immune supporting herb that is antiviral and also a heart tonic. I took it for a while with the hawthorn, and my heart symptoms are significantly better.
Like many writers, I’m a hardened caffeine addict. I normally drink tons of coffee with no ill effect, but when my heart rate was over 100 I figured it was a bit much to stimulate it some more. I’ve cut down significantly. At the worst point I stopped drinking it altogether and my heart was thankful.
I’ve slowed down. Obviously the illness has forced me to rest, and my heart and lung symptoms have forced me to slow down when I’m active, but I’ve learned to move around slowly in general even when my body isn’t screaming at me and it’s really helped. If I do everything at a slower pace, I’m less likely to get out of breath, less likely to strain my heart or lungs. I try not to carry anything heavy, rest in between any activity, and even washing up is done in small batches. Lots of talking can also be tiring for your lungs and heart. When you’re on the mend or having a good day, it’s important to remember to pace yourself, as your body is still trying to heal the tissue damage cause by the covid. Patience is key.
Positioning can help make breathing more comfortable. Propping up with extra pillows at night has helped me. Also varied positions such as lying flat on my side with a pillow under my hip, or turning on my front for a short time has helped my lungs to drain more easily and relieved the feeling of being constricted. When too much activity makes me out of breathe I rest. When lying down for too long make me feel like my lungs are congested or stagnating, I get up and gently move around. I’ve felt more comfortable breathing lying on my left side than my right, possibly due to my heart being affected. Other people have preferred the opposite. When my heart rate was very fast, lying down flat helped the most. Careful experimentation, instinct and observation soon reveals what is helpful.
As I already have asthma, I’m used to the experience of feeling out of breath. I’ve been able to stay calm and relax as much as possible, rather than panic. Your body used less energy when you’re relaxed. It’s hard not to panic and start gasping when your breathing feels constricted, but counterintuitively it’s easier to breathe if you accept this is where your body is at, and focus on relaxed unhurried breathing as far as possible. In the acute stages, it can be impossible to avoid panting, but again, staying calm and relaxed means your body wastes less precious oxygen. This leads on to my next useful tip- equipment.
An oximeter is handy for monitoring oxygen levels and pulse. They are cheaply available online, and while not as accurate as hospital equipment, do give you an indication of how your body is coping. Some people don’t realise their oxygen is low until they collapse. Conversely, some people, like me, feel out of breath but our oxygen is ok. The oximeter can give some peace of mind and a guide on when you really need to rest. I have a peak flow meter which is a simple inexpensive device that you blow into, to measure how hard and fast you can breathe out. Inflammation, such as asthma, or other lung diseases can cause a low peak flow as the airways are narrowed. It’s a good way of keeping track of your lung health, and distinguishing between a physical problem and a panic attack.
Distraction and relaxation. Distraction really helps when symptoms are scary. Easy reads, audio books, relaxing mindless TV or game apps, sitting out in nature, afternoon naps, whatever. Or sometimes it’s a case of peace and quiet, meditation, visualisation. My body has been working very hard these past few months, even when I’m lying down. It’s been fighting a virus unlike anything it’s met before. All my systems were on high alert. Fast heart rate, high temperature, high blood pressure, fighting to breathe, fighting off the virus, clearing out the toxins, dealing with lack of sleep due to symptoms, the fear, the frustration. All these things take a lot of energy. Modern culture is so driven and work-orientated, and given to expecting quick cures or relief so we can get back to being busy. We have lost the art of convalescence. All the ME and chronic fatigue community are saying REST don’t push yourselves, to avoid a more chronic situation. People who’ve gone back to work too early, or tried to do too much too soon have had relapses, sometimes severely. It’s not lazy or selfish or unhealthy to rest until you feel 100%. A person dealing with or recovering from covid has been on the battlefield internally. It’s not just ok to rest and recover for as long as you need, it’s really important and entirely necessary. Take care of yourselves x
Day 99 in the covid household. Overall I’m slowly improving, but still experiencing new symptoms, even at this stage. Also, I’m no longer having periods of being completely symptom-free as I did in the earlier stages. My breathlessness has become less acute, but more chronic—continuous but less dramatic. I have to walk more slowly than I did a few weeks ago. And I’m having days where I don’t feel up to a walk. When I say walk, I mean to the end of the road and back, which would normally take 10 minutes, and now takes at least double that. I have mild asthma so it’s probably in part an aggravation of that, but the days of breathing difficulties tend to coincide with other covid symptoms. For example, last week’s new symptom was covid eyes. It’s red and sore like conjunctivitis but without any pus or crustiness. My eyes have felt dry and stinging, then watered excessively for hours. One eye had a puffy jelly-like conjunctiva, like I get with hay fever, but minus the itching. Just before it comes on, my vision goes a bit blurry. Over the same period my peak flow (a measured of how hard and fast you can breathe out, used to monitor asthma) dropped significantly, and whilst I wasn’t panting like I had in the earlier weeks, I had to cut short phone calls as it was hard work to talk.
My breathing is improving again, along with the eye symptoms. In the last few weeks I developed sudden attacks of muscle weakness and drowsiness. It feels like extreme fatigue, but comes on out of the blue. It feels hard to hold myself up, and I even have to consciously make an effort to breathe. It seems neurological. Other people with long-tail covid have reported the same issue, and it is listed as a symptom on the covid symptom tracker app (part of the King’s College covid research). Given all this, you’d think I wasn’t getting better but when I look back, symptoms were much more acute. My resting heart rate of over 100 has come down. I’m rarely having palpitations now. Maybe once or twice a day. My blood pressure is back to normal. I do still cough, but it’s more like an asthma cough, a bit dry, or thick, not the harsh hacking cough of the early days. Occasionally my lungs still crackle, but less often, and less severely. I get a full night’s sleep more often, rather than lying awake with a racing heart or struggling to breathe. Walking into town, or going shopping are absolutely out of the question. My house is a horrendous tip (worse than usual!).
However I feel hopeful. Being in a couple of covid support groups has made a huge difference to my sense of empowerment and strength. We share useful resources, articles, research, and personal experience and tips for managing symptoms, and of course, empathy. People a couple of weeks ahead of me in the covid timeline are reporting that they feel better. In my next blog post I’ll share some things I’ve found helpful in managing symptoms.