Social Isolation and the Immune System

The other day a thought occurred to me. What is happening with social isolation and the immune system? By that I mean, how are our immune systems reacting to being away from people? This thought led me to another one: will we be more susceptible to common viruses when this pandemic over? I am not trying to scare anyone, and I don’t have the answer. I do, however, have the Internet, which can be a valuable resource.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything that really answers the questions I have about social isolation and the immune system. I am working from the assumption that our immunity will weaken. It only seems logical to me. Think about the elderly folks who get the flu from their grandchildren. They may have had immunity at some point, but they lost it. Even vaccines have a shelf life when introduced to our systems.

But, again, I don’t know. I am not a doctor, nor a medical specialist of any kind. However, as I haven’t been able to find much information about social isolation and our immune system, I am starting to think it’s not that big of a deal. Of course, my feelings mean nothing in the face of facts. Sadly, though, the facts are sparse in this situation.

But, just because we don’t know if isolating ourselves from each other right now doesn’t mean there aren’t steps we can take. Before I continue, let me be clear. Social distancing is essential right now. Do it as much as you can. Please.

Social Isolation and the Immune System: Staying Healthy After This

Some things to do to ensure a healthy immune system are things we should all already be doing. The first thing of course is wash your hands. This is basic hygiene, but it is so important. Beyond cleanliness, we can also ensure we’re getting enough sleep. Sleep affects the immune system and promotes good health in general.

A healthy diet is also essential. Fruits, veggies, lean protein are all good foods to eat at any time, and can help keep us going. Additionally, washing our produce with cold water (not soap like that video by the nurse suggests), and cooking our food completely will help keep us safe from sickness.

Again, these methods aren’t anything new or mind boggling, but they are probably our best bet for preparing for the end of the pandemic. Of course, the pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, and there might be more research coming out concerning what all this social isolation is doing to our immunity.

And even then, we still might get sick. In fact, I’m in social isolation. I live with my sister (a doctor). She brought a flu home the other day and I got sick. It was a small bug, thankfully. But it got me anyway, and I’ve been washing my hands, sanitizing my phone, and generally doing what I am supposed to do. You never know what will get you sick. And I think that holds doubly true for the post pandemic era, whenever it arrives.

Stay safe out there, and take care of your mental and physical well being as much as you can. And look at cute pictures of animals. It will at least bring a smile to you face. And smiling is good for the immune system whether or not you are in social isolation.

The image shows a cute picture of a pug to help people boost their immune system while in social isolation

Suicidal Ideation: Thinking About Killing Yourself

A few weeks ago, I read an article that got me thinking about suicidal ideation. It’s a really good article, and you should click on the link and read it. Put simply, in that article, Anna Borges describes suicidal ideation as treading water in the middle of the ocean. And that, my friends, is a damn fine description.

You may wonder why I am talking about this now. That’s a valid question. First, I don’t want you to worry. I don’t have any plans to hurt or kill myself right now. But then, that’s kind of the point concerning this condition. SI is a passive form of suicide. It allows for thoughts of self harm to live in the mind, whether or not active plans are present. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life. I have never gone on medication, mainly because I’m scared. I’m scared of what the medication might do to me, and how it will change me.

I don’t define myself by my depression and thoughts of suicide, but they are a part of me. Sure, they’re an unhealthy part that hold hold me back, but there they are. Does it seem silly to worry about how feeling better will change me? Of course it does, but that doesn’t change my feelings. I often think that I should just go for it, but I always stop myself.

Anyway, back to why I am bringing this up at the moment. One, it’s the holiday season and that is a difficult time for many people. Though, according to this healthline article, suicide rates actually drop during the holidays and increase in Spring. This is interesting, considering the standard myth of most suicides occur during the holidays.

Suicidal Ideation is a State of Being

However, just because most suicides don’t happen during the holiday season, doesn’t mean those thoughts aren’t there. In fact, (again according to the healthline article) those thoughts probably are there. However, many people can ignore the thoughts because of interactions with others. Holiday parties, family gathering, and seasonal cheer might stave off suicidal action. Also, there is the idea that we don’t want to ruin the season for others. Suicide is already often considered a selfish act by many, and the holidays are for giving.

Second, and this goes back to the article by Anna Borges, we need to talk about suicidal ideation. The mystery and complex feeling surrounding suicide makes it difficult to talk about. If we tell our friends or family, there’s no telling how they will react. Some of them might get angry. Others might get scared. Most likely, there will be a combination of emotions. And I understand that. Listening to someone tell you they feel like hurting themselves or killing themselves is hard. It’s scary, and anxiety inducing, and can leave you feeling helpless.

Our friends and family care about us, and to that end they might want to solve what they see as the problem of our contemplation. The trouble with that, though, is they may not be able to solve it. In fact, they probably won’t be. And then they might get mad at their failure. Or, we will let them think that everything is okay while we suffer. Why would we do that? Because we care about them as much as they care about us and we don’t want them to worry.

And that’s the crux, isn’t it? We don’t want our loved ones to worry. So we remain silent.

Silence is Harmful and Unhelpful

But staying silent does more harm than good. It closes people off from us, and creates feelings of isolation. It also prevents us from working through our emotions. I’ve rarely expressed my suicidal ideation to my friends and family, but when I have, I’ve been lucky. No one has freaked out or gotten angry with me for expressing these thoughts. But, I still felt fear when doing so. Just as I feel fear now, writing this post.

But I am doing it because Anna Borges inspired me to be a bit more vocal about my feelings. I am not asking for help, advice, or sympathy. I am just asking anyone reading this to understand that many people have these thoughts. In fact, you, dear reader, may be feeling something similar at this moment. And that’s okay.

It’s okay to have these feelings. And it’s okay to not feel okay. Furthermore, it’s even okay to not want to share these feelings with others. But you know what else is okay? Wanting to and needing to share these feelings. Humans are social creatures. We need people we can trust in our lives, and we need to express ourselves. There is no shame in sharing your dark thoughts.

If you don’t think you have someone you can talk to about this, there are plenty of online resources. One example is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Phone number: 1-800-273-8255.

You can also comment here, and I will listen. Though, I understand if you don’t want to.

As for me, I’ve been feeling blue, so I bought myself a new pillow. It’s a silly thing and it won’t stop my suicidal ideation, but I needed one. And sometimes getting things that we need and want can help keep the darkness at bay.

The image shows my new pillow, something I bought for myself to stay happy and prevent suicidal ideation.

Listen and Be There Without Judgement

If someone comes to you with feelings of darkness, be kind. Understand it took a lot for them to open up. You can experience anxiety and anger and fear, but later. Let them tell their story. Open your ears and your heart. Close your mouth and your rational mind. There will be time for all of that later. But listening is so important. Many people don’t feel heard, and that adds to the pain. When we don’t feel heard, we don’t feel valued. And when we don’t feel valued by others, we often have difficulty valuing ourselves.

I’m not saying we need others to validate us before we can validate ourselves. However, I know when I feel down and worthless, it is nice to hear others express their feelings of love for me. It feels good to be valued by others. Additionally, by listening to your friend who is going through a rough patch without judging them or giving them advice, you show them that they aren’t a burden.

This is important because so many people don’t share for fear of burdening the listener. And yeah, it can be hard work listening to someone talk about suicide. It can also feel burdensome if your friend keeps telling you the same thing without changing. At that point, it sounds like complaining. But, remember, this is a process. It’s okay as the listener to feel like you can’t take it all. You don’t have to be there all the time, but be there when you can. Help when and how you can. It matters more than you think.

Thank you for reading. I love you, even if I don’t know you.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Waits, Cave, Hurt

When I taught Czech university students I played them three versions of Stagger Lee. And, since it was a conversation class, I had them discus the similarities and differences before telling them my thoughts. As an ESL teacher, it’s important to avoid injecting your own bias as much as possible. I’m not always successful, but I try.

The first of the three versions of Stagger Lee I played was Mississipi John Hurt’s (Stack O’ Lee). Many consider this version the definitive story of Stagger and William DeLyons. And that makes sense. It did come out in 1928, after all. Things of note in this version: Stack strikes fear in the community. He’s a cruel man and a bad man, and the cops can’t, don’t, or won’t arrest him. The myth of Stack or Stag as pure evil is on full display here. Also notable, Billy steals Stack’s stetson hat, and Stack kills him for it. Keep this detail in mind for later. Also of note, Stack uses a .44 to kill Billy. Something else to keep in mind. Finally, in this version, the law hangs Stack, and everyone is happy.

So, to recap, this first version of the story is the oldest and sets the template. All other tellings of this story owe it. At some point, though no mention of it occurs in this telling, the story evolves into a gambling disagreement. In some of those variations, Billy cheats Stagger Lee, and Stag kills him for it. Still, no matter how you slice it, the core of the story is that Stack/Stag is a menace to his community. People fear him and the police are powerless. He’s the Boogeyman, only real. In his telling, Nick Cave takes this theme to the extreme.

Three Versions of Stagger Lee: Nick Cave Gets Explicit

If Mississippi John Hurt gives us the menace that is Stack O Lee, Nick Cave gives us the terror of that man. Hurt’s version is subtle and understated. Cave’s version is everything but that. Stagger Lee, as interpreted by Cave is a brash and vile murderer. He’s also making a name for himself as evidenced by him having to tell the bartender who he is.

He’s a killer and a rapist. He is as immoral as they come, but still somehow cool. If Tarantino wrote songs, he would share co-writing credit with Cave.

It was interesting playing this second of the three versions of Stagger Lee to my class because it is so different. They were college students, and I warned them of the explicit nature. Still, I did worry that I was crossing the line of good taste. Of course, Nick Cave and good taste don’t go hand in hand. Thankfully, my students didn’t report me to the bosses.

And, they drew the obvious connections: Pork pie hat, bad man. But they also noticed the differences: in Cave’s rendition, Stag is much sexier (explicit). Seriously, listen to that groove, and tell me it doesn’t ooze sex. You can’t.

Another difference between this telling and Hurt’s is that Stag gets away with it. The song ends with Stagger forcing Billy to perform fellatio and then killing him. In an extended version, which I didn’t play for my students, Stagger is worse. He rapes the devil if you can believe it.

Nearly a century passed between Hurt’s version and Cave’s version, which accounts for the visceral difference. Of course, others were playing around with the legend of Stagger Lee in between, and that leads me to Waits’ Small Change.

Tom Waits’ Small Change Is A Different Telling of the Same Story

Now, in all my admittedly limited, research, I’ve yet to find anyone else connecting Small Change to Stagger Lee. But I stand by the connection. Both Stack O Lee by MJH and Stagger Lee by NC tell the story of a bad man with a hat and a gun. Sure, this isn’t much to go on, but the similarities to Small change are too close to deny. All three versions of Stagger Lee mention a hat, a gun, and the general fear of the community. The big difference is Hurt and Cave concern themselves with how nasty the titular character is.

Waits, on the other hand, acknowledges he’s nasty, but adds some optimism to the story. In Small Change, the communal menace gets killed on the street. And the killer uses his own gun, a .38. Here’s something interesting, in Hurt’s version it’s a .44. In Cave’s version it’s a .45. The caliber of the weapon grows in accordance with the menace. Yeah, Hurt’s version is a bad and cruel man, but he is only a simple murderer. Cave’s .45 wielding maniac is a rapist, a terror, and larger than life. Of course he wields the biggest weapon of the three versions of Stagger Lee I am discussing.

Small Change is Billy, Not Stagger Lee

That was the argument made by a student when I played these three songs. She argued that Small Change was Billy. Her reasons: the name, the hat, and the gun. Basically, Small Change, with his .38 is the odd man out. Not only is his name not Stagger or Stack, he’s got a pea shooter. Yes, Small Change terrorizes the neighborhood, but he’s fallible. It’s not the police who capture him, and he doesn’t live. In fact, his killer remains unknown. “Someone will head south until this whole thing cools off.” He doesn’t exude the overall menace of the other two. I am [paraphrasing because it’s been years, but that’s the gist.

On one hand, I can see this. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can see it. More importantly, I appreciated this amount of thought and consideration from my student, and she made a logical and compelling argument. It happens to be one I think doesn’t hold up, but one I still think about nearly 10 years later.

Small Change is a Version of Stagger Lee

While I respect my student’s idea about this, I disagree. For one, in Small Change people are happy to see him die, just as they are in the other songs. In none of these three versions are people happy at Billy’s death.

Two, his death offers a chance at a better life: “The dreams aren’t broken now, they’re waling with a limp. Now that Small Change got rained on with his own .38.” Billy’s death would do no such thing.

Third, the newsboy steal the hat. If Stagger Lee were alive, that newsboy would be dead.

So, there you have my thoughts on three different versions of Stagger Lee as filtered through a teaching experience I once had. I hope you enjoyed reading this long diatribe.

The image shows the cover of a Stagger Lee comic, which is a fourth version of the three Stagger Lee stories in this post
Order the book and learn more. I don’t get any money if you purchase through that link. I’m not an affiliate.

Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween Movie

Apparently there is some debate about whether or not The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween Movie. Well, I am here to tell you that it is. How do I know? Well, Danny Elfman said so. But even if he hadn’t, I would maintain that this stop motion animated masterpiece is for the spooky season.

The image shows Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, from The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a Halloween movie.

Despite the focus on the Yuletide, and the appearance of Christmas Town and Sanit Nick himself, NBX screams Halloween. It begins in a town full of ghosts, goblins, vampires, werewolves, and other beasties. Jack Skellington rules the town as the Pumpkin King. He’s not the Mistletoe King, nor his he the Tannenbaum King. No, Jack’s title is Pumpkin King. And aside from pies featuring that fruit, there’s not much Christmasy about pumpkins.

Nightmare Before Christmas is full of Tricks, Making it a Halloween Movie

Okay, so we’ve established one reason why Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie. But don’t worry, there are others. The movie is all about tricks and treats. Are those a feature of the Yuletide season?

Jack first tricks the townsfolk by pretending to be into his holiday when he isn’t. No, Jack is tired of scares and spookiness, but he can’t let the others know that. Soon, he finds himself in Christmas Town, where he gets the idea to steal the holiday and replace Santa.

Upon his return to Halloween Town, Jack has to trick his friends. He first tries to sincerely sell them on the idea of Christmas, but they’re not buying it. Or at least, not getting it. They don’t understand the concept of Christmas, and how could they? They’ve never visited it and only have Jack’s description. Plus, they’re monsters so they naturally focus on the scary stuff. And then Jack gives them what they want by telling them of the monster Santa Clause, painting the kindly old gent as a ferocious creature.

Soon, Jack decides to steal Christmas, and begins plotting. This involves yet another trick. Kidnap Santa Clause. And how does he implement this plan? Well, he hires Oogie’s Boys (costumed trick or treates) to kidnap the “The Big Red Lobster Man,” which they do, after accidentally snatching the Easter Bunny. So much trickery.

And then of course, there’s Sally. Sally is the heart and soul of the film, and even she gets in on the trickery. She tricks her creator Doctor Finklestein several times, and even plays a trick on Jack when she makes the fog because she knows what he’s doing is wrong and a disaster.

Far too many tricks in this movie happen to make it a Christmas movie.

Yuletide Elements Can’t Be Ignored

Of course, people who deny The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie point to the title. It has Christmas in it, so how can it not be a Yuletide movie? Admittedly, this looks like a good point, but it really isn’t a strong one. Yes, there are X-Mas elements in the movie. And yes, it mirrors It’s a Wonderful Life in the sense that Jack learns to appreciate the life he has rather than pine for a different one. There’s even a little but of How the Grinch Stole Christmas in there thanks to Zero, and the residents of Halloween learning what Christmas is all about.

Still, a word in the title and a few connections to Christmas stories are not enough to make this a Christmas movie.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t watch it during the Christmas season. In fact, it’s a good choice because it does remind us of the power of friendship and loved ones. It just does so with zombies and mummies and skeletons instead of family and angels and such.

I say the Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie that you can watch any time of the year. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Alien Nation Ahead of Its Time and Of Its Time

I re-watched Alien Nation last night, and that movie was ahead of its time. Well, maybe that’s not quite the right way of looking or thinking about it. Maybe it is better to say that for as much progress we as a society have made, we haven’t moved much beyond a lot of the issues the movie addresses. So, in that sense, it was very much of its time, and that time is still now. Or something. I don’t feel great today, but I wanted to write this while thoughts are still fresh.

The picture shows a poster of Alien Nation, a movie that still resonates with its message welcoming immigrants.

The movie is a buddy-cop in the 1980s tradition with aliens as the twist. Matthey Sykes (James Caan) is a grizzled detective who loses his long time partner and friend during a shootout with some Newcomers (aliens). In one of the most movie things ever, he’s on the job the next day and volunteers to work with the LAPD’s first plain clothes Newcomer detective: Sam Francisco (Mandy Patinkin). Sykes laughs at that name, refuses to call him Sam, instead naming him George. So far, except for the aliens, things are pretty standard.

Alien Nation Poses Questions About Immigration We’re Still Answering

But, that’s the thing that makes Alien Nation both ahead of its time and a product of its time. The film makers present the Newcomers, and humans’ reactions to them as multi-faceted. Yes, there is a lot of bigotry and fear of the aliens. Sykes identifies himself as a bigot. And in a movie trope that has gone by the wayside–the man on the street exposition interview–a college student laments having to compete with Newcomers, who are smarter and generally more talented than humans. To some degree, this fear is understandable. The Newcomers aren’t just from another country; they’re from another world. It’s hard not to miss the immigration allegory because it’s not really an allegory.

What amazed me as I watched it this time (I’ve seen the movie quite a few times) is how similar its language is to today’s conversation concerning immigration. You’d think that in the 31 years since this movie hit theaters , we’d have found a way to move the conversation forward. However, the difference is, the movie makes a statement that while there may be some bad apples, overall we should welcome the aliens.

One of the most interesting statements concerning immigration the movie makes is that we all have things in our past we are ashamed of. Before coming to Earth, the Newcomers lived as slaves. To keep them strong and productive, their masters gave them a drug called Jabroka. Jabroka is analogous to PCP, and it is bad news. All of the Newcomers were on the drug, and it is their secret shame.

More Commentary on Immigrants and Immigration

George expresses this when he tells Sykes about the drug, which a cadre of rich and powerful Newcomers, are now attempting to produce on Earth. George tells Sykes that if humans knew about the drug and what it does to Newcomers, they would be afraid and turn against their planet’s new inhabitants.

I like that it’s the rich and powerful Newcomers–the best and brightest of the bunch–who are the criminals. This isn’t a street gang operation with thugs. This is methodically planned and requires resources. Plus, Terrance Stamp plays the main villain, and he’s always a treat.

Something else that struck me about how Alien Nation was both ahead of its time as well as of its time was this speech from George to Sykes:

“You humans are very curious to us. You invite us to live among you in an atmosphere of equality that we’ve never known before. You give us ownership of our own lives for the first time, and you ask no more of us than you do of yourselves.I hope you understand how special your world is; how unique a people you humans are. Which is why it is all the more painful and confusing to us that so few of you seem capable of living up to the ideals you set for yourselves.”

That right there says it all, and makes this movie as relevant to today’s conversation concerning immigrants as it was in 1988.

So, there’s some of my thoughts about Alien Nation. I hope you enjoyed reading them. Let me know what you think of the movie, its message, or this post in the comments.

Finding a Way Out When Depression Strikes

I haven’t been doing so great lately. I’ve been depressed, and indulging too much in unhealthy habits. Also, I’ve been slacking on work, and giving into the urge to just lie in bed too much. When life gets like this, I often have trouble finding a way out, and I know I’m not the only one.

Depression is a funny beast in that you never know when it’s going to strike. This recent episode is a great example; I was doing fine until I wasn’t. What happened? I wish I could tell you. All I can say is that things were going swimmingly, and then one afternoon I went shopping and everything started falling apart. Standing in line, listening to the excellent Flight Risk Podcast, a feeling of dread overtook me. My stomach dropped and my eyes flooded with tears, which I quickly wiped away. Crying in a Chinese supermarket is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also not great.

After paying for my goods, I walked home and crawled into bed. At least, I put my groceries away first, a small thing, but something to be proud of nonetheless. For the next two and a half weeks, at least, my days consisted of work, junk-food, booze, and bed. These are not winning way of finding a way out of depression.

The image shows several wine bottles, which hinders finding a way out of depression
A collection of all the wine I drank last week. 7 bottles in 7 days. Not good for my health in any way.

How I am Finding a Way Out

I’ve taken some measures over the past few days in an attempt to break out of this deep darkness. I’ve started eating better, cutting out most of the junk-food in place of fruits and veggies. I love fruits and veggies, but when depression strikes, I find them difficult to eat. When the soul aches, I crave unhealthy junk, which is always a bad idea. Sure, greasy fast food burgers may taste good (they don’t, really), but they just add to the sadness.

In addition to attempting to change my eating habits, I have cut out the booze this week. I love to drink, but when finding a way out of depression, alcohol is not a good guide. Aside from being a depressant, it makes for sluggish mornings and unclear thinking. Furthermore, it is full of calories, which leads to weight gain, which can lead to more awful thoughts. It’s a vicious and terrible cycle.

I’ve also been trying to go for walks more. I haven’t necessarily been too successful on this front because of low energy levels, and it’s really hot here. But, I have at least made some effort, which is more than I’ve done recently. Walking has always been good for me. It gives me time and space to turn my mind off and clear the cobwebs. Of course, it also provides me time to overthink, something that is not always a benefit when dealing with depression. Still, it offers a way to get moving, gets me out of bed, and those have to be good things.

Moving Forward

The methods I am using for finding a way out of this funk I am in seem to be helping, but it’s still really early in the process. Almost anyone who’s suffered from depression can tell you there is no easy fix. Exercising and eating a proper diet can help, but they are not miracle cures. However, if we keep at them, and continue to build good habits, we can reinforce our defenses against this beast that drags us down. They can help us say no to the terrible and dangerous thoughts that rush through our minds.

By keeping our efforts up, we can show ourselves that we have worth, that we can accomplish things, and that we are not the scum depression calls us. To that end, I am going to keep my alcohol consumption to a minimum for a while, and I am going to keep eating fresh food. And, I am going to start writing more. I’ve already done this by starting a short story a couple days ago, and now by writing this blog post.

Battling depression is not easy, and it takes time, but I will continue to fight it. This battle is one I’ve been engaged in for most of my life, and I am not going to stop now.

Mental Health America link for those looking for help and resources for their depression.

Thank you for reading.