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Friday, 24 July 2015

Why Should I Worry?

I used to have serious anxiety problems.

Don't get me wrong. I still do. I just deal with them differently now. Anxiety isn't the kind of thing that just goes away, no matter how many mantras you repeat, no matter how logical your thought process, no matter how much money you pour into the wallets of therapists and counsellors.

Anxiety just has a very different way of interacting with me, now. Or more precisely, I interact with it differently - it still rattles the saber, but I get to pick the battleground.

For a long time I didn't leave my house.

I still lived at home with my parents at the time. I was 19 going on 20 and if I were to use a word to describe my mental state, I would say it had been Coventrated. (Look the word up. It's a very cool word.) I wasn't having a good time of it.

The outside world became my enemy. I hated it because I was so afraid of it, and the people in it, and the very real chance that I might have to exchange words with another human being that wasn't in the "safe" box in my mind. There weren't many of those, either. With the removal of any outside timetable (I was signed off work due to this anxiety amongst other things) I tended to wake up at 4-5pm and fall asleep at 6-7am, catching the evening news with my breakfast, and drift off after the educational cartoons and reruns of Countdown on Channel 4.

Slowly defeating this mindset and getting out of that lifestyle was an uphill struggle but one I eventually kind of won sort of. I didn't know what an Introvert was, back then - but I knew that not being able to go outside was Not Normal and Counter To Having A Good Life and I needed to Pull Myself Together etc etc etc. I could vomit with how much of that particular brand of bullshit I had to chug down with my daily ration of awake.

To go against that was terrifying. I'm no stranger to panic attacks, and the thought of forcing myself outside for no good reason would trigger them. I'd have them just inside the front door. I'd have them on the way to the shops. I'd have them AT the shops, and all the way home, and they wouldn't stop until I got inside...

...and it has taken me a long time to realise that what I'd done was a victory anyway, because even if it scared the bejeezus out of me, I did it. It's an old cliche that a true hero feels fear and strives on regardless, but one I never applied to myself. Yes, I freaked the fuck out when the self-service tills weren't working and I had to smile and say hello to a stranger and give them money and manage to say goodbye properly and oh god oh god oh god go leave don't look anyone in the eye get home home safe home safe home safe HOME LOOK THERE HOME SAFE...

...but I still came home with a 2ltr of Dr Pepper and two loaves of bread.

The only way I found to beat anxiety wasn't to beat it at all. It was a cocktail of treatments and attitudes, but it was more tae kwon do than muay thai. Avoidance and rebalance. It was difficult mental work but it worked, for me, eventually. The recipe for my Curative Cocktail:

  • 1 part INTERNALISATION. Panic attacks are less scary if you know you can swallow them down and keep them inside you, like a storm in a bottle - and when panic attacks are less scary you have less of them, and those you have are less awful, and naturally (though slowly) the storm starts to lose its fury.
  • 1 part STUBBORNNESS. Fuck you, anxiety. Fuck off. Fuck you. Sick of you running my life you bastard. Just sit in the back of the skull there and make me sweat profusely whenever I see someone I am socially obliged to have a conversation with, and let me go and buy a ruddy Pot Noodle in peace.
  • 1 part ACCEPTANCE. Seriously. This is so fucking important. You need to admit to yourself that you are anxious, because until you do that, you can't take logical steps to undermine the irrational parts of your brain and defeat them with the Rube Goldberg logic machines you construct consciously.
  • 1 part KINDNESS. To yourself. Don't push it too hard. If you do, you'll fall your ass back down. Push until you are past the line of discomfort, but not so far that you can't look back and see it. Then walk back at a leisurely pace and retake your place on the couch.
  • 1 part TRICKERY. You learn by doing, and you learn tricks. Social tricks. To me in particular, a person who isn't actually very good at being social, the learning of social tricks was crucial. The things you are meant to say when other people say things - this you learn through exposure and through going over that line of discomfort. Unfortunately that means...
  • 1 dash BEING AROUND PEOPLE. Preferably people that care about you or are cool with you or who just won't be shit at you if you do things wrong. It's often hard to, when you are in the pits of panic, ascertain if your best friend forever is going to ditch you like a bad smell if you say "hello" the wrong way - but those moments of lucidity, when they come along, are wondrous.
  • 3 parts FINDING AN ANCHOR. Everyone I have met that has anxiety has a method by which they can somewhat chill themselves out. Not instantly and not totally, but there's something somewhere in this big wide world that will dial back the feeling of gnawing panic in your cranium. I found a few things actually. Music is a big one - writing, gaming, all sorts. They pretty much saved me.

...and now I can pass for a kind of functional human being who has healthy relationships with people and can hold down a job and all that other bollocks. This leads to the chaser for the Curative Cocktail, which is called the Dismissal On The Rocks.

At some point, you learn that you don't necessarily need to give a fuck. You start to run out of energy to care, which can be dangerous, but hopefully it is because you are applying that energy to other things, like Being Around People or interacting with your Anchor. It's a case of riding that wave, and applying that lack of fucks to give to things that you know, logically, you are anxious about with no conscious reasoning. So what if the person in the shop thinks I was wearing this shirt yesterday?

(Note: This is an actual cause for a panic attack I had once. I had walked from my house into town and to the supermarket, and was about to step through the door when I nearly choked because I realised the shirt I had put on, on the way out the door, was the same design as the one I wore yesterday. Not the same shirt. The same design. That alone was enough to cause me to hyperventilate and avoid going into the shop for a full ten minutes.)

After a while - you start to work out what you can and can't afford to give a fuck about. You weigh things. You assess things. Anyone who suffers anxiety is very good at overthinking, but harnessing that overthinking into actual thinking can be very beneficial to one's life.

It's unfortunate that, in the process to conquering the beast, one develops an aversion to it. Anxiety recognises its own. When people near you get fearful, so do you - it's human instinct. The anxious folks are just that much more in touch with the notion of fear than everyone else.

This makes it hard for an anxious person to aid another who suffers; people getting antsy about stuff makes us antsy and we kind of hate that, which makes us feel bad because we want to help but we end up getting angry and twitchy and sometimes our eyelids go all crazy.

So yes. I still have anxiety problems; but at least I'm the one holding the reins.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

That Which Is Owed

WARNING!!! This blog post gets quite rambly about finance, and is made from the perspective of a bit of a leftie amateur economist. Read on but be warned!

Once upon a time, there was a sin called Usury; and Usury was the sin of charging interest on a loan or transaction.

We are talking a long while ago, mind. Biblical times. There's a couple of verses that address the issue directly - essentially saying that you can do it to every other bastard, but not to your homies:
Exodus 22:24 (25)—If thou lend money to any of My people, even to the poor with thee, thou shalt not be to him as a creditor; neither shall ye lay upon him interest.

Deuteronomy 23:20 (19)—Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest.

Deuteronomy 23:21 (20)—Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it.
...which is interesting, because even in a historical sense, right there - it's recognised as Not A Good Thing. Fast-forward to 325AD  wherein, at the First Council of Nicea, clergy (and later, laity) were forbidden from charging interest to ANYONE.

The Qur'an has something to say about it too:
Those who charge usury are in the same position as those controlled by the devil's influence. This is because they claim that usury is the same as commerce. However, God permits commerce, and prohibits usury. Thus, whoever heeds this commandment from his Lord, and refrains from usury, he may keep his past earnings, and his judgment rests with God. As for those who persist in usury, they incur Hell, wherein they abide forever (Al-Baqarah 2:275)
So...interest. Not cool bro. Not cool at all.

Smashcut to 2015, and if you try telling anyone that interest is a bad thing, they will think you are crazy. Interest is so ingrained into our lives that we barely even notice it any more. It's made a lot of money for a lot of people (and cost a lot of people a lot of money too).

Interest made lending money to people very profitable indeed. It led to the financial institutions as they exist today, as huge and monolithic as they are, with traditions, laws and practices that extend back centuries.

It's why people, civillians lets say, talk about being in debt, or getting into debt. It's a Bad Thing. While loans are Good Things (they help cashflow which can lead to more money being made for all) debt is a Bad Thing.

On the other side of the coin, debt is - to financial institutions - a fungible product. It is a thing. It can be traded, bought, sold. It has a value. When a bank makes a loan to a person, they are investing in them - and that investment repays. What happens if it doesn't repay? The remaining debt is sold to a recovery agency or similar, for a small percentage of the original value - and they then chase the debtor, for the full amount plus a markup.

There's all kinds of laws in place for loans, of course. The maximum interest one is allowed to charge, for example - the once-evil concept is regulated, tamed, made into something that is profitable to the lendor without crippling the debtor. Risk should factor into the decision to offer loans and at what rates, too - the current financial crisis is what happens when loans are handed out en masse to those that are at higher risk of default or failing to repay. Credit ratings are a numeral indicator of risk as seen through the eyes of credit companies, from the data they can access on one's lifestyle.

The regulations are in place as much for those taking out the loans as for the banks and institutions lending them out, of course. A bank can only afford to have so many of its loans go bad before it doesn't have enough cash to operate properly, and suddenly, Too Big To Fail becomes Shit That's A Big Failure.

Either way, when a bank makes a loan to a person, the two parties make agreements. They agree to a schedule of repayments and an interest rate, for example. They agree what happens if the debtor defaults. That's what those bits on the contract that you sign say, anyway. A good bank will offer a competitive interest rate, sensibly limit how much money they lend to people with consideration to how much they can afford to pay back, and up-front tells the person they are lending to what happens if they don't pay it back.

What the bank doesn't get to do is tell you how to manage your finances after the fact. It doesn't tell you how you should be working, what you should be saving, that you can't go out for a pint on Friday because if you do that then you may not be able to repay the loan. They work on the assumption that you aren't risky - that you won't blow the entire loan on hookers and blow and then try and flee the country.

Debt recovery agencies are a little more harsh than that, depending on circumstances. If you clearly can pay what you owe, they'll come after it, hobnail boots jammed into doorframes, seizure orders, the works. If you cant pay, however, they tend to work with you. They try to ascertain what you can afford to pay, and then get you to pay it - because they want to get paid. You don't get money from people who don't have a lot by demanding the entire thing while threatening to snatch their matress. You work with them, you come to an arrangement - they get paid, and eventually, your debt is cleared.

This approach shows that most debt agencies actually know more about austerity (and how it isn't actually good for anyone) than its proponents.

Lets say a small business owner defaults on a loan, for whatever reason. Their income is 800 credits, their outgoings are 700 credits, and they default on a debt of 1200 credits. A letter lands on their doorstep demanding 1500 credits - that's the original debt of 1200, plus 300 for the recovery company's time.

A smart recovery company will come to an arrangement with the business owner. They can afford to pay back 100 credits a month with absolutely no quarter for potential failure, decreased sales or increased costs. So the smart company comes to an arrangement for less than that - say 50, spread out over 30 months. It'll take them a long time to get paid, but they'll have gotten paid, and the business they are collecting from won't go bust and fail to complete the payment schedule. It is reduction of risk, to avoid gouging a debtor so hard that their ability to repay you is impaired.

Or in other words: don't shit where you eat.

Where am I going with this ramble? Why, Greece is the word.

In short, they are probably considered high risk at this point, which is perhaps understandable. Currently, though, the raft of measures that are being deployed to arrange repayment is shitting where you eat. If the IMF expects the Greek economy to recover, then demanding austerity AND a harsh repayment schedule is beyond foolish. Austerity doesn't help anyone repay anything. It slows economies down, reduces monetary circulation, and hobbles spending power - spending power such as that needed to repay large loans to the IMF.

Which is going to get them into trouble, probably. Maybe another default - which may lead to another set of bailout loans.

Now...if a mobster made a loan to our same businessman from earlier, and they were to default. 800 credits income, 700 credits outgoing, 1200 credits owed. The mobster sends the boys round, demands 1500 - but demands 300 of it up front; more than the businessman can pay without crippling his business.

Either 1) the businessman fucks his business and pays the 300 credits but can't ever pay back the rest as his business is gone or 2) the businessman says he can't pay that much.

Well that's fine, says the mobster, cracking his knuckles. We'll take 100 now...but you'll owe us 2000 credits later. And the businessman agrees, and cuts to the bone, so he can afford to spend a credit on food as well as keep paying the mob - and that's great...until his outgoings increases to 710 credits due to inflation or a supply problem.

Mobster sends the boys round again. Can't make the payment? Well that's fine...we'll lend you a little more to get you out of trouble. But here's the thing. You're gonna need to be paying us 120 credits a month for twice as long to cover it all.

If you heard about this happening to someone you know - well you'd demand they call the police, because that's loan sharking. Engineering a financial difficulty for someone in order to profiteer from them? Highly illegal, amoral, and part of the reason why usury was a sin.

But if the mobster is a huge financial institution and it is sending the boys around to entire countries...well, nobody seems to think that's as messed up as it really is.

This is what austerity does. In times of poverty, those that do well are those who take advantage of others. It is a predatory environment, and sometimes the predators hunt prey as small as a person - and sometimes they go for entire nations. If another country tried to rob the Greek economy directly, they'd be met with military force, but these robbers wear suits and are acceptable parts of society.

Keep this in mind: whenever a cut is announced, and it's to "reduce the deficit" - that is going into debt owed to loan sharks, a group of rich people in an office deciding what we're worth as a nation and gouging us for every single penny they can. In ancient times we saw this as wrong. In day-to-day life we know it's wrong, on a personal level. Why is it okay on a global scale?

If we're to approach this moralistically, and ethically - it's not.

National debt is profiteering on a grand scale, and we shouldn't be okay with it. Neither should the Greeks - and neither should the Germans.

Usury is a sin. that's off my chest...back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Thoughts On The Three-Three

So today I turned 33 years of age.

How's it different to 32? It isn't. Not for the age, anyway. Life is better - significantly objectively better. I'm feeling slightly better, slightly less ill. I'm feeling a lot happier and more confident at work. A lot more settled in my own head too. My ulcer has healed, though my lungs aren't up to much. Life is just working out better for me.

Will I be able to say the same again a year from now, Bastille Day 2016? Who knows.

What I do know is that there are people in my life - some that I talk to literally every day, some that I barely talk to more than once a month, everything in between - that have made life a happy thing. Sometimes it feels like ice-skating up hill, but with friends like these I can climb mountains.

I think you all know who you are. I hope you do. If you're at all curious, just ask, I'm pretty honest.

If we talk every day: Thanks for being tolerant of my short temper, my weird thought process and my general lack of physical ability.

If we don't talk too often at all: Thanks for understanding, and for not being mad at me.

The political landscape right now is a little rocky; but it all comes down to how we ride the storm, not how long the weather stays sunny. So this year is for the living.

More tattoos. More travel. Catching up with people that I haven't seen in TOO DAMN LONG. Getting shit together, making life better.

I've already got the liberte, and I'm working on the equalite. Let's have some fraternite.

...and fuck it, let's make a straw promise of a blog every week.

...wait wait wait no I didn't NO WAIT STOP -