Corona Virus

Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix Article 4: Walk Not Alone Among The Flames

In today’s post John Davis explores the bleaker aspects of being in hospital.  Including that death was an ever present, at times he felt he had nothing more to give and his conditions,  medication and his body’s need to fighting the infection, brought about a kind of madness.  He explains that his life was in flames but he found a way through the fire.  An inner calmness that enabled him to draw understandings from his experiences about the core things that matter in life, such as: food, water, shelter, love, care and compassion.  Today’s article also analyses advice provided by a person called Cousin Dimitri who uses his experience of Hurricane Katrina as a source from which to make suggestions about how we might get through the Corona Virus and then build better ways of living.

Very early in the survival process, I felt that a position of ‘nothingness’ would be my friend.  So, as I explained previously, I approached what might be my last few hours in this world from the position that I was already dead.  By readying myself to meet my makers, I could meet each of the four operations with a complete calmness and the relaxed perspective that anything other than death would be a bonus.  Every second, I have lived since the last operation has been a treasured gift, even the worst, terrible, moments of my post-op recovery seemed like a gift.

One of the worst moments happened the first night I was in intensive care, when there was a huge episode with different medics rushing to save a man who was dying.  A nurse kept trying to call his wife to get her to come to the hospital. The sound of that man’s death will never leave me and I have added my experience of witnessing this man’s death to the list of sounds and memories from my time in the 1990’s working as a researcher in A and E. The sounds reminded me of the screams of a mother and wife who watched there loved one, a young motorcyclist, die in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in the 1990’s.

These moments also connect with memories of losing my own friends and family on life’s journey.  Indeed, I find funerals very difficult because I hate to see other people in pain and because such events release memories of the extreme losses that I and my family members have experienced over our lifetimes.

My memories of loss are not all negative. For example, I was lifted in spirit when, in the USA, that man’s wife made it in time to be there when he died.  Something about me, meant I did not want this guy to die alone. This experience taught me about compassion and the need to treasure the small stuff.  I have a lot of friends whose loved ones are having to manage ill health at the moment.  They apply, with huge dignity, the old song about one day at a time.  They have taught me that life’s reward can be, just, the ability to live second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour and day to day.  The phrase, don’t sweat the small stuff, encapsulates my learning from these experiences.  We should not burden ourselves with expectation, judgement, nor selfishness.

We should never think our-selves superior because we survive something and others do not.  As I said in the last post, at the end, it is what we have offered to other people that counts.  There can be no shame in feeling ill, being incapacitated, nor dying.  For what is life but a journey to death?

Being able to smile at that man’s death because he did not die alone, was some sort of consolation for the fact that, at that stage, I did not know where my own journey was heading.   It gave me some form of calmness about what was to come

Yet, let us not be too casual about death.  There is danger that we will become desensitised to the number of deaths that are announced in the news each day (this week the UK  almost reached 1000 deaths a day, the highest recorded for a single day in Europe.  UK daily deaths are only surpassed by the USA who reached 2000 a day).  We must remember, as the BBC video in the previous post reminded us, that every death affects family members, communities and colleagues.

I have always argued that when tragedy strikes we can not live our lives in the land of ‘Why?’ And, ‘What if?’ I have argued this because I have seen the toll that such questions have on individuals who can not move on from what fate delivers.  I need to be clear hear.  I am saying that we have to be careful about asking questions that can never be answered.  That does not mean that we suspend all judgement and do not hold politicians to account.

My comments do not apply to politicians, because their job requires them to stand on their record.  As communities and countries we have to analyse what is happening and make sure that we know exactly what is happening and what needs to be done.  We need to know what needs to be done quickly to support people in the hear and now, and, we need to plan for the future in order to support people’s recovery.

The impact of the tragedy that is unfolding can be reduced by astute political decision making.  I have almost entirely put aside my discussions on Scottish independence at this time.  There may be a few lines here or there that slip through  from the first drafts of these articles which I wrote last year; if I haven’t spotted them during this edit.  But, such longer term political discussions can wait their time.

What is important now, is that we hold our politicians to account, what ever their political party, so that more lives are saved.  Let me be very clear – every decisions that has been made may have saved or cost lives, so we need to analyse those decisions and make the necessary changes as soon as makes sense.  Every decisions builds or reduces the trust of the people, hence they have to be analysed, least people slip back into meeting again too soon.

What  am looking for in our politicians is openness.  Every young person who has passed a maths exam knows that you have to show the examiner your workings.  Hence, to build trust the politicians need to make sure the information they are giving us is accurate and we need clear explanations concerning the thinking behind why they have taken certain decisions and not others.  The period prior to shut down lacked clarity.  Leading up to the shut down, the  information on why, why now, and why not earlier, was sketchy.  Some things have improved, but the daily announcements need to ensure the information we are being given is accurate. if they are to build trust.

Just before doing the final edit on this article. this lunch time, there was a briefing from the Scottish government on the figures, on a new call centre for advice and on the guidance for funerals.  It was the first time I felt I had listened to an announcement that was clear and made sense and covered some of the concerns about my own health that I have been having.  Some time in the next few days, I will be calling the advice line (it is opening tomorrow) in Scotland the number is 0800 111 4000:

‘The hotline will be available instead to elderly people over 70, people with disabilities, those who require support from mental health services, those who are pregnant and people who receive a flu jab every year as a result of other conditions’

The web site for anyone who is unsure which category they fall under or for those who need general advice is readyscotland.org.  We need to ensure that all announcements are as clear and helpful as that one.

The most significant event I missed whilst in hospital was the death of Billy McNeal the Lisbon Lion, Celtic Captain and former manager.  I was totally grief ridden that my predicament meant that I could not be one of the people who lined the streets of Glasgow to mark his passing.  He was a true gentleman who always had a friendly smile, warm laugh and soft spoken moment for the supporters whom he bumped into near the ticket office at Paradise.  The song You’ll Never Walk Alone had exceptional resonance that day:

I have chosen a video of Liverpool supporters singing this song because they no what it is like when services are not prepared, when plans are not put in place to protect us, when  evidence is suppressed, when the politicians let you down, and when we lose trust in our political system.  The Hillsborough Memorial is in my mind daily (see previous article on this).  It acts as a symbol of the need for politicians and public servants to put us first and not their careers.  The nurses, doctors, carers and other key workers who are putting their lives at risk – need to be sure that those who lead their services are doing so in ways that minimise risk, promote protection and ensure as few of them as possible become ill, or, pay the ultimate sacrifice by losing their lives.

Not being able to stand with the mourners in Glasgow who marked Billy’s passing was tough.  But, nothing to compared to what families now face.  It would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago, to not be able to, physically, be there for your loved ones, when they were dying.  Such is the inhumanity of the current situation; that folk are not able to feel the touch of a loved one in our hour of need.  Similarly, to not be able to hug mourners at a funeral will restrict people’s ability to properly mourn.  During this crisis, we must find creative ways for people to say goodbye when their loved ones die.  The system must not lose its humanity.  And, we must be there, physically, for each other when we can hug again.  Eilen Jewels song Someone’s Arms says it all:

Snow blankets the city in a cover of white
I wish someone’s arms were holding me as tight
But the devil wind blows harder on me, cold and bare
And someone’s arms won’t be reaching for there’s nobody there.

Hospitals are places where we lose our sense of self, where we go to see loved ones who are dying and where human loss and suffering are an ever present.

I could hear all that was going on in the bays either side of me both in intensive care and on the ward.  On the ward, there was one woman who sent a nurse out of her room and refused to have the nurse care for her, simply for looking young.  Other patients talked to the nurses as if they were something they had stood on.  I, generally, responded to these scenes by hoping these patients would choke on their sense of self-entitlement (just before putting my headphones on to block the selfish fuckers out).

But, I also realised that maybe a few of those patients where, at times, just as incoherent as I could be and wouldn’t have wanted to be seen behaving that way.  In general, I try to see the best in people, but if folk are bullies, whatever their excuse, it is unacceptable and brings out my street fighter side.  In contrast to the self-entitled woman who sent out the inexperienced nurse, my experience was that the younger nurses were excellent and that that nurse, in particular, was incredibly kind to me.  The less experienced staff were well trained (or were working hard for their qualifications), were thoughtful, were caring and were keen to help.

As I said in an earlier post, after each of the four operations I woke up with a sort of, ‘Wow I am still here’ feeling.  Which was usually followed up with an, ‘I can’t bare the fucking pain’ reality.  I did not feel suicidal, but, by accepting the possibility of death, I managed to locate myself in a fairly dignified place. Over time, I could feel the heat of my body fighting back.

This fighting process had a kind of madness which mixed with the impact of too many drugs, the left overs of four general anaesthetics, and the heat of the hospital room, led my mind to race deludedly.  In all the madness, a calm irony struck me.  I had been prepared to die, and at times would have welcomed the release, but, my body, the surgeons, and the staff did not let that happen.  The strangest realisation emerged.  Inside, I had no desperation to live.  I did not feel emotional about myself.  I was not angry, I was calm about myself and my prospects.

And, yet, on the outside I was completely deluded.  When ever I thought about everyday things or past memories they came in a haze of dream like hallucinatory thoughts.   I note now, with irony, that my initial ‘ready to die’ feeling, that got me through the operations, was simply the calm before what became the most turbulent of storms.

Since my operation, I have come across an Americana song called Don’t Let Me Die in Dallas (there as also American songs called don’t let me die in Wako, Flordia, Black and White etc.)  Don’t Let Me Die in Dallas is about a time that Leigh Nash’s father phoned her to say he thought he was dying in a Dallas hotel room – this clip tells the story in a very humorous but touching way:

The line, Don’t Let Me Die In Dallas – helped me choose the title for my series of articles as it helped to express the emotions that I had suppressed during my calm phase.  During the calm phase I had avoided questions like, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ and statements such as ‘This is so unfair!’.  As I have said such statements/questions are like jealousy, they are a wasted emotion.  There is nothing you can do about what is happening to you but live your way through it.  Nothingness becomes your friend.    No expectations, no thought of tomorrow, no thought of, ‘What if?’  Just surviving, in the here and now, is the best you can do.  I had to trust others to get me through the nothingness. And 12 months on, the Corna Virus is confronting us all with that reality, we are reliant on ‘key workers’ in community, education, health and social care to get us through this.  And, those ‘key workers’ are reliant on politicians to protect them.

Initially, I avoided screaming at the gods on my inside, because I had to focus on just getting through each day.  But, I would say, 12 months on in the journey, I still have the idea that, one day, I will find my way up to the top of a mountain somewhere and just, yell and yell and yell at the gods/goddesses in appreciation of surviving my ordeal and in order to release the frustrations that I have had to endure.

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Fire Stone John Davis © 2020

A friend on facebook recently posted a Mary Oliver poem about what we might find a top the mountains:

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I could not move in my hospital bed, I could not climb to the mountain top but that did not stop my mind from  learning lessons from the experience.  I was troubled by the question ‘What is keeping me alive?’.  The technical rational answer was, ‘all those wires and drips you dummy’.

Don’t Let Me Die In Dallas inspired me to write my own poem that sought to better understand what was keeping me alive by connecting my madness and hallucinations, with my feeling that there was a sort of shamanic female force of being that helped me through the process.  The poem is a thanks to the significant women in my life who gave me a reason to live.  In this way, the poem also connects with the ideas of love and care explored in an earlier article which included a poem entitled ‘The Phoenix Amongst The Flames – A Love Letter’.  This poem is entitled – Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix, Alone Among The Flames:

Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix, Alone Among The Flames:

He saw her through the glimmer

Of his wild swilled morphine craze

As the fading light of his sickroom

Welcomed her distant face

 

She spoke directly to him

But her meaning remained ill hazed

The politeness of her vision

A comfort to his mind’s race

 

And god knows he was a sinner

That the storm had set a blaze

The blindness of his afflictions

An affront to her fine grace

 

And god knows he sought her figure

As the lightening burned his gaze

The cleansing of her affections

A coolness his body craved

 

And from his spirit that still lingered

There came this whispered phrase:

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Alone among the flames

Don’t reduce my bones to ashes blown

Like dust upon the plains

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Alone among the flames

Let me see your eyes up close again

Before the darkness stakes its claim

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Where my days are almost done

Help me ease this curse-ed pain that drains

Before the darkness overcomes

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Where the sunset’s just begun

Let me see our land once more proclaimed

Before the darkness I become

 

He sought her through the shimmer

Of his stain spilled dressing trays

As his heart beat on the monitor

Sketched its flickered trace

 

She offered him a prayer

Though her soul had yet been saved

The likeness of her apparition

Then suffered him an embrace

 

And god knows he was a dreamer

In a lust thrilled shameful space

The sadness of his addiction

Her affections he madly chased

 

And god knows there would be no exit

From this tight and turning maze

But if he’d meet with her forgiveness

He’d greet death in a better place

 

And from his spirit that still lingered

There came this whispered phrase:

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Alone among the flames

Don’t reduce my bones to ashes blown

Like dust upon the plains

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Alone among the flames

Let me see your eyes up close again

Before the darkness stakes its claim

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Where my days are almost done

Help me ease this curse-ed pain that drains

Before the darkness overcomes

 

Don’t let me die in Phoenix

Where the sunset’s just begun

Let me see our land once more proclaimed

Before the darkness I become

Through this harrowing process, I learned to appreciate, even more than before, the people in my life who gave me reasons to live.  I learned to accept my human limitations and embrace the flames.  For the fact that I could feel the flames meant I had survived.

Earlier this year, I came across the song, Wildfire, by Mara Connor. This song expresses similar sentiment in the lines:

Baby you’re a wildfire

Baby you’re a wildfire

I don’t want to let you die

I want to watch you grow higher and higher and higher

I don’t want to let you die

When it’s all over

They’ll scatter our ashes like stone into sand

Millions of memories

Reduced to a dust dancing in the wind

When it’s all over

They’ll scatter our ashes into the sea

But for now

Bring that fire over to me

 

The fire that was in me did not overwhelm me; and that had something to do with the good women who were on my side, wife/lover, sister, daughter, mother, aunts, cousins, friends and colleagues – whatever the relationship, I drew upon it in the bleakest moments. As I write on, I will discuss the male relationships that helped me through this experience but I have to acknowledge that the people in my life who taught me about love were women and it is they who gave me my primary reason to live.

I made a pledge to myself that if I did survive I would try to grow through the experience and support others to learn and grow from my experience.  My hope is that when reading this, you can be inspired to think about how you yourself might use small acts of kindness to make this world a much fairer and better place.

The first act of kindness me need, is a change in the political system that so promotes inequality.  I was lucky to have health insurance in America, to have the best of care and to have a huge amount of money spent on my operations.  At this time of crisis, that should be the gold standard that all our citizens can experience.  The NHS is being stretched to its limit (limits caused by under funding and lack of preparation) but at least it is there for all of us (if we keep to the guidelines and it does not become overwhelmed).  I have deep concerns about countries that do not have universal health care – we need a world wide response to this crisis and those countries need to have a look at their core values.

Many years ago, when I was thinking of quitting my PhD, I was helped by an anthropologist called Alan Campbell.  Alan was a genius who worked out a strategy for me to overcome the barriers I was encountering.  His reward for being good at his job was to be bullied out of his post and forced to retire on health grounds (see report here).

In 1996 Alan produced an outstanding book called Getting to Know WaiWai which was shortlisted for the 1996 McVities Scottish writers prize.  In his book, Campbell connects his Scottish feelings about the echos he hears of Old Caledonia when he is in Scotland, to the fact that the destruction of the Amazon meant that he was only seeing an echo of the Wayapi way of life from a 100 years earlier.  Alan moved on our understanding of the words shaman and shamanism (piya and paye) to be more of an active thing than a noun.  This shift suggested that we all have the potential to act in shamanic ways – in the sense that people can have moments where they utilise their active shamanic engagement with history, culture, nature and our ancestors to make better decisions.  Shaman use their engagement with these things to find ways of being, knowledge and insights that can be employed to help us over come our life issues.

The Corna Virus teaches us that our system lacks an adequate safety net.  But, worse than that, the economic system we live under has actively sought to cut our connection with our sense of self, place, collective identities, cultures and histories.  It has sought to cut our connections with the idea we should all have access to land, food, water, comfort, health and shelter.

Campbell learnt that we had lost a connection with our ancestors and our natural environment.  But he sought to teach us that the core values of our ancestors could never be wiped out, they continue to echo down the ages in myth, legend and song – they are in us still to this day.  We can even here hints of Old Caledonia in the Americana/Ameripolitan songs played on NOLA County that I have added to these articles. Indeed, Sam Doores has a song where he puts his own lyrics to the tune from Loch Lomond .  I can’t quiet bring myself to put Sam Doores’ song in here (no offence Sam) – because I love the Runrig version too much.  So here is the Runrig version. Lets ensure this crisis involves us taking the high road to a better place:

Echoes from my own past life, came to me in my darkest moments in the hospital.  Moments where I felt I had nothing left to give.  I was always aware that most of the people who came to me were not there in body, but it was as if their spirit was there, at least in my mind – re visiting from our pasts.  I would dream about rugby games I played in and great moments of success and loss.

The sporting successes I experienced as a young man, still gives me a warm feeling, but, that feeling has a lot to do with the sense of team-work, togetherness and fellowship that was engendered, and not much to do with personal gain or glory.  Whilst playing rugby, I learnt a tough guy act that got you through the violence of the games.  Older players taught me how to take care of myself.

Several players, who played in the back row, showed great generosity to me, encouraged me and helped to develop my resilience.  One of those guys recently tagged me in a post on facebook about male mental health.  Which asks people to tag folk you will be there for, if they need to talk.  I was humbled by that experience.  It meant a lot.  That guy had taught me how to knock out an opponent with one punch (not something I am proud of and have self-critiqued previously in my writing on this blog).  But, more importantly, he also taught me about team work.  It was lovely to see his best side, his supportive side, coming out in public.  As this song by Fretland states, you have to be in it for the Long Haul and try to be there when folk need you most:

During my delirious phase, my wife would come in and I would say to her something about having amazingly creative thoughts, write something down on my phone and fall as sleep to dream on.  When I came back to myself, I would search for my notes to find that they had about as much meaning and worth as a shopping list pulled out of last summer’s jacket pocket.  When I asked my wife if she remembered anything of what I said, she would inform me I had been incoherent.

Such was the impact of the drugs, I occasionally posted messages on facebook before they had been consciously edited.  Nothing I posted caused me much discomfort.  When I now read the posts, they make me smile.

We need beacons of light when we are staring into the abyss. Through dreams and fantasies my brain found a way of reminding me that, in our technical rational world, many of us have lost touch with the greater meaning of our lives.  My experience taught me that we need to get more in touch with the simple things in our environment and draw lessons from the better parts of our history and ancestry, not the ‘brave heart’ myth but the ‘Aw Jock Tamson’s Bairns’ fact of our traditions, to become beacons of light for our friends.

In-between the madness, I gained a maturity.  Commercial objects, the media, sporting success, etc., all seem meaningless to me now.  If you are reading this after, recently, spending  time on the internet arguing with others about whether the season should be finished, pause for a moment.

You are in the midst of a human tragedy, get your head out of the sand, the season should be Que Sera Sera, save your energy for those around you who will need it.  Think about why you are letting others gaslight you and why, at this time, you feel the need to respond on social media about such a trivial issue as sport.  This is not the time for the Bill Shankly quote, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.’  There is nothing more serious than our present crisis.

Having changed my priorities, I like nothing more than to be in the countryside and forgo the consumer culture that engulfs our lives.  My experience has reminded me that it is people that matter, not objects, results or scores.  I continue to be overwhelmed by the burning feeling of gratitude I have for the people who supported me, my friends and the hospital staff.  My life has changed utterly, but I am, now, very grateful because it has changed for the better.

A person on Facebook, who I greatly admire for the lessons her work has taught me, posted a message by a person called Cousin Dimitri about the current Corona Virus crisis.  Cousin Dimitri’s advice helped me summarise my feelings about the process of change I experienced:

‘Lessons learned in the aftermath of Katrina that I’m choosing to apply to the coronavirus:

1- Times of crisis bring out the best in some, but also the worst in others. Accept the generosity of friends and strangers but rely on yourself. For every person who made food for their neighbours after the storm, there was another one that went around stealing construction tools at night. Everyone is on their own trip.

2- Verify your sources. Ask follow-up questions. A neighbour telling you “I hear the National Guard is going to set a 7pm curfew,” can be a scary thing to hear at a time of such uncertainty. Simply asking “Where did you hear that?” can expose the flimsiness of their news, and help you sort fact from fiction.

3- Whatever doesn’t make you stronger could end up killing you. We humans can accomplish amazing things under pressure, but the stress can leave invisible scars that will take their toll. Find something that keeps you sane, and don’t make it too ambitious. You may not have the bandwidth right now to read—or write—that novel you’ve been planning to. Spend five minutes at the start and end of every day meditating, praying, or dancing around the room.

4- By now, you already know: It turns out that thing you were planning this Spring was not that important. At least not as important as it seemed a month ago. Whether it was a vacation, a music festival or your own wedding, there will be time for it when we’re out of this pandemic. If anything, you’ll appreciate it that much more 6 months, or 6 years, from now. One thing going wrong (bad weather, missed flights) can feel like a catastrophe when you’re really looking forward to something. But this? This is what writers call “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Or “if the creek don’t rise.” Or what church folk call “in God’s hands.”

5- Promise yourself some closure. Seriously. Do this. Make a plan for something that’s not possible–or legal–right now and vow that you will do it when things calm down. The vacation you cancelled, the dinner you’ve been saving for a special occasion, or going to the pool in that ridiculous swimsuit that’s been sitting in your closet cause it’s just too much. Make a vow to yourself that 5 weeks or 5 months from now, you’ll do it. You may not be fully financially recovered by then, but your gift to yourself doesn’t have to be expensive. Not only are you giving yourself something to look forward to, but you’re also setting a benchmark. “I will be fine once JacquesImo’s reopens/Lizzo tours again/I can make it back to Dauphin Island.”

Things may never be “normal” again, but they will be normal enough.’

 

When I was in hospital I could never look too much into the future, but, in terms of Dimitri’s 5th point, I did make a promise to myself that if I ever got through this nightmare I was going to spend more time with the people I love, more time listening to music, more time dancing (if I am able to dance again) and more time in the countryside.  A lot of the hospital staff asked if, after this experience, I would ever return to the USA but I was clear; as long as I can get the insurance – I shall return.

I never had much time for egotistical people, but, as a result of my ordeal, I am now more likely to call them out face to face.  One of the reasons I moved jobs was to work in a setting that had more chance of practising what it preached on inclusion and social justice.  My 50th birthday present to myself was to no longer work with or put up with negative people (Thanks to Pat Dolan and John Pinkerton for that advice).  To this, I have added the pledge to sort out gaslighters, passive aggressive and bullies at the earliest opportunity.  Life is too short to put up with stuff that we don’t have to.

Individualism and commercialism just feel like trivial nonsense.  The Corona Virus is currently forcing us all to realise that commercial stuff is not more important than people, food, housing and health.  When we are through this current storm, let us not forget the need for collectivism and let us challenge selfish ways of being. Until then, as this song says, we need to Hold The Line for each other:

When I finally came out of the haze, it was like I had been vaccinated with a truth drug and could see the world more clearly for all the shitshow that it is and was.  I felt a deep regret for the wrongs I have done to people over the years and yet a burning need to speak out about the injustices in our lives, as if I myself have never contributed to anyone else’s pain.  After the operations, I knew I was different but, at the same time, I felt I was still the same person and this quote seems to sum up this contradiction:

‘But I do know that I’m different. Still me, but not quite. All the pieces of me aren’t all lined up exactly as they were, and I haven’t fully accepted this yet. I liked who I was before all this. I’m not sure about this new fella…. … I get tired easily. My skin is thinner. Bad news, be it personal or national, gnaws at me more than it used to.’ (see post here)

One of the key reason I am writing in this blog about such personal and sensitive matters is to encourage you to engage with the reality that we come out of some process as ‘same but different’.  And, we have to get a handle on this change; if we are to channel the Corona virus experience, and the pressures it has brought, into positive outcomes.  We must talk about what is now happening to our world, even if at times that brings discord.  Don’t let anyone silence you with ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ and WASP like mentalities.

We can only stop the medical issues of the Corona Virus if we take collective social action.  We can only resolve the social and economic hurts of this crisis, if people are able to be critical of specific processes that are not working.  You should not trust anyone who tells you not to raise issues because it is divisive.  Unless we know what is not working, we cannot know how we should improve our broken world.  And there is a need for collective social action over the longer term to ensure our broken world is improved.

After the crisis, do not believe anyone who tells you we have to return to a system based on homelessness, poverty and inequality.  Our economic and political system has begun to demonstrate its ability to provide a more supportive framework for its citizens– the emperors’ new neo-liberal clothes have been revealed as thread-less.  Over the last few years, The Common Weal think tank has been doing excellent work on the policies we need to implement if we are going to develop a fairer society.  Please note that there are lots of papers and video clips on the Common Weal website that show us what a different Scotland and world might look like

My personal preference is not to use words like socialism.  We need better, loving and more meaningful words for social change.  We need words that are about fairness such as – the common weal.  I see socialism as part of the problem of capitalism – they are like two lovers who hate the fact that they need each other and make so much noise arguing, they constantly wake up the neighbours.  Socialism, in the UK, has only ever existed as a form of capitalism lite.  We need something more fundamental, if we are to enable a society built on fairness and equity.  Let’s just keep calling it the Common Weal.  I like that term because it is about putting all of us first (as the people at Common Weal say on their badges and T-Shirts).

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We have to be very careful when taking the first small steps to recovery.  If we are to avoid the worst excesses of an economic crash, we must have solutions that enable people to keep their homes, jobs and livelihoods. Some support has been put in place, but, at present, with an increase of a million people seeking universal credit in the UK, the package is nowhere near enough.  We need to ensure that we, and our fellow citizens, do not fall through the cracks.

A central aspect of the state’s role, that has traditionally been abdicated during times of austerity, is to provide financial support for those who are falling.  A safety net for everyday people. Ben Wray’s writing on this has been excellent (see here) and I am more convinced than ever we need a basic income for all and that we need a bottom up solution to this crisis.  As Ben Wray says:

‘The question isn’t ‘state or no state’, it is what form of economic organisation do we want across the whole of society and ultimately who holds the power. ‘

It will be a tragedy if we repeat the Gordon Brown era solution of quantitative easing that enabled state subsidy, almost in its entirety, to flow to the rich.  At one time, Scottish Bankers sought to ensure that our financial systems were built on a notion of prudence.  The financial system lost its Scottishness when The City of London was allowed to take unfettered risks that put all our lives in danger.

Scottishness is a thing that seems even more important to me now.  More people are at risk during this Corona Virus because Scottish, caw cannie, values of prudence, thoughtfulness and patience were given no space by the selfish mainstream media that feeds off Westminster politics.

I tell lots of people that being Scottish saved my life.  You can’t grow up in a country that has so many hills and mountains without having a certain ruggedness about you; a pride in being able to collectively survive whatever the elements throw at you; and a recognition that we, as a families,  as communities and as a country, have to make preparations for the bad times because bits of you will always be different after the storm.  During my worst moments, Devon Gilfillian’s song Unchained gave me great hope.  The song is about his brother’s ability to live (and love) fully, despite life’s setbacks:

Through the thunder and the lightning

I keep on fighting

Rising from the ashes and I’m standing

And no matter what comes at me

I’m gonna break these chains

I will remain

Rather than take a technical rational approach to my experience, I have sought to learn from my experiences in ways that listen deeply to what life has been seeking to teach me.  In a very Scottish, Celtic, emotional, way, I have sought to make meaning of the full force of nature that was thrown at me.  I have sought to make meaning and take pride in the madness that I experienced.

Peter Beresford is a key writer on mental health in disability studies and has developed a social model of madness and distress.  His work enables us to reclaim the words ‘Madness’ and ‘Distress’ from those who would use them as a stigmatising stick with which to beat us:

‘Madness’ and ‘distress’ are terms which have been used by some survivors and survivor activists to challenge the medicalised nature of mental health discussion and policy. This was highlighted by the establishment of Mad Pride, an independent survivor-controlled organisation and network. We first asked participants how they felt about these terms personally and then how they felt the terms were understood more generally in society.  The strongest personal reactions were to the words ‘mad’ and ‘madness’. Some participants valued the terms. They felt that they conveyed experience in terms which people could relate to. ‘Madness’ was a word that could be helpful to describe periods of extreme distress.’

The social model of disability teaches us to be positive about our differences and that having your different ‘bits’ change, as part of life, is to be expected.  The social model of disability teaches us that we need to avoid discriminatory attitudes about impairment because there is no ‘normal’, discrimination is wrong and our prejudices are based on untrue stereotypes.

In my own case and in these articles, I have tried to convey my experience of being on the edge of reality, death and nothingness.  I have tried to do these things in as open a way as possible to demonstrate my willingness to engage with and take pride in my impairments, who I am and what I went through.  My friends have been brilliant in also helping me to do this.

My recovery was also greatly aided by the positive energies of my colleagues (particularly the early years, family support and inclusion folk I work with, the Head of School, and the Occupational Health staff at the University of Strathclyde).

My brother and son have been through serious operations and their advice, along with that of other male friends (I have not named you here but you know who you are), particularly concerning the contradictory nature of hospitals, enabled me to get an inkling, in advance, of what was coming at me.  Every friend who called me or visited me when I got back home, aided my recovery.  Some brought gifts but the greater gift was their understanding and care.

One friend brought a turntable and some records, boy was that a lovely day when we got that turn table out and let the world fill with music.

I was aware from the start that I would have long term debilitating impairments that I might not overcome but it was not the medical issues but the emotional impact that took the most getting used to.   Tune in next time for Article 5 which critiques the political response to the  Corona Virus;  poses the question, ‘what do you do when you can’t hug anyone, or can’t find warmth with in the cold?’;  And, gives some tips on how to cope  when each day is full of imperfections such as being lonely, growing old, being childless and not having a home.