Monday, October 27, 2014

On the purpose of life

What if the purpose of life isn't to be kind and experience happiness and all that stuff? What if the whole purpose is to try to live as long as possible, be gratified at all costs, and try to outlive others so that either us or our offspring (mine, and not that of others) have a chance of becoming God? Because if you outlive every other human being, then by default you are supreme, right? And I say human being because I imagine that other creatures don’t worry themselves with questions like “what is the purpose of life?”

I am, of course, not the first to think of this evolutionary/survivalist theory of life. There’s a theory that even altruism, that warm, fuzzy, “nice” stuff we seemingly do without self-interest, does actually pose a survival advantage. As an example, let’s say I become a humanitarian and go out of my way to help other people in whatever disadvantageous situation they find themselves with (ill health, poverty, etc.). You may think that it’s selfless, right? I mean, how does helping others help me, when if anything I am giving up of my time, efforts, money, etc to help another human being? Well, indirectly it does boost my potential to survive and still come out on top because it buys me allies. Other people see my “selfless” acts and get a positive impression of me – and that makes them want to help me! People more powerful than me may want to protect me, associate with me, give me opportunities I would never had had access to on my own. Numbers of people want to protect you, embrace you as an ally, and defend you from bigger enemies than you could handle on my own. Selflessness pays off! And it pays off probably more than pure instinct-based, survival strategies ever could.

I used to preoccupy myself with the question of what is the purpose of life, and more specifically, my life. Is it to love? Contribute positively to another’s life? To prove myself in this biophysical form on this planet until the biological matter I’m made off becomes unsustainable and I start decomposing into my component atoms, subparticles, and energy – so then after this, some “essence” of me (the thing I and many other “believers” call the spirit) can carry on to another alternate life? Then the question becomes, yes, but what is this “proof” we need to make of our lives? Again, is it to show that I am the best at this survival game, to boost my happiness to the maximum level imaginable, to boost the happiness of others, to feel connected to another human being in the way love connects people? What is love? Is it more than the stimulation of the right combination of neurochemicals in my brain that make me “feel” the emotion of pleasure and calmness we call love? If it’s more than the chemicals, the reactions, the synapses, does that again place it in that inexplicable spirit world? Is anything real? What is real? … and you see now where my preoccupation led me to: suddenly I’m wondering not only why do I exist, but do I exist?

At times I wonder if all this thinking isn't just all part of some secret system, that the human ability for introspection is just some sort of distraction technique. Let me explain it like this: imagine that you have an eye looking out. Now, behind it there’s a brain attached to it like a movie screen set up to capture the image in front of the eye. So whatever is in front of the eye is what is transmitted to the brain; that is the movie being watched. But now put a mirror in front of the eye, so then suddenly the only thing the eye sees is the eye itself. So then then brain becomes preoccupied with the eye (as that’s the only thing visible in the universe). But you will never know what is beyond the mirror, and pretty soon you’ll stop even wondering about what there is beyond the mirror. Hell, you may even become convinced that that eye is what it is all about. You’ll start asking yourself questions like what is the purpose of eye? Is it to keep it healthy and free from pain, to experience happiness and all that stuff…

Monday, October 6, 2014

On neighbours

From when I was very young, one of the things I remember being taught was that the best neighbour is the one you don’t even know you have. You don’t see them, you don’t hear them, and you certainly don’t interact in any other way. Is my family strange for having taught me that? My family (like everyone’s family) is strange for many reasons, but I didn't figure out the true wisdom of the neighbour theory until I moved out of home myself.

I've always tried to be the kind of neighbour I have wished to have: courteous of others’ tolerance to noise, and allowing people the right to be left alone in the place where you have every right to be alone. Now I know some people are different to me, some people want interaction with the people around them, and they think it’s courteous to interact with the people who share their street or their neighbourhood. I once even had a friend my age who when she left the house, would go knock on her neighbours’ door and tell them that she was going out. Maybe it was purely because she had some health problems  and took comfort in knowing that in times of need her neighbours would likely (or be expected to) come to her aid. Maybe that was the reason, I don’t know, but I found this very very strange. Or maybe I’m strange.

I once lived in an apartment where I had the misfortune of renting the unit above where the owner lived. I made agreements with the real estate agency and moved in, and that was my expectation of all I would have to do in order to live in this place. That was all our written contract said: I would not destroy the property, inspections would be scheduled ahead of time, and I would just do the “living” inside the unit as per my choices in life and the standard human rights afforded to anyone. But the owner downstairs would count the number of showers I had a day and approach me if I had more than two in a 24 hour period (which can happen if you work shift work like I was doing at the time). She would question me persistently if I had visitors and ask if they were moving in. If I went out onto the little veranda where I kept some pot plants, that was somehow an invitation for a conversation with her. She wanted to know what I was doing, who if anyone was living with me (no one was), what times I was expecting to be working in the following week, why I was having a shower at a particular time, why the extraction fan was running (i.e. when I was cooking), why did I let my mum park in my parking spot and leave my car in the street when she visited, etc., etc. It wasn't just friendly banter or genuine interest, it was always in the style of an interrogation, and it was so exhausting. Why couldn't this woman get through her head that living near each other did not make her my friend, comrade, ally, family member, or anything other than a stranger? As soon as my lease ended, I moved out. That was the craziest neighbour I've ever had, but certainly not the craziest I've heard of!

So what exactly is it with some people thinking that just because you share a similar street address that you somehow share something deeper? I don’t understand this. Yes, the people we live near probably share a similar income demographic, similar priorities in choosing a house to live in, but that really is about all we share in common – and this common ground does not give us greater privilege unto each other. Yet I see it all the time, neighbours believing it is their right somehow to integrate themselves into your life. Why? Is it loneliness? Is it that because of the high rate of mental illness in our society that you’re more likely to encounter “interesting” people as neighbours? I don’t know the answer to that. I just wish that people would understand that it isn't your right to impose or seek from your neighbours any sort of validation, positive or negative. I wish that more people understood that people do have a right to privacy and to have their home be their retreat. And why do I think of these things right now? Not because of me; I couldn't tell you the names of my neighbours or recognise them if I saw them anywhere other than our street, so I consider myself lucky in this sense. But I am currently witnessing a close friend’s joy in life being sucked away by her over-involved and intrusive neighbour – and that’s not fair. She now has no retreat to come home to after work. We’re not talking here of some sort of Hollywood celebrity who has signed away their privacy for the industry they work in. I’m talking about everyday people being robbed of their basic right to be free from interference. And even if what I've believed since early on about interacting with our neighbours is wrong (and it may be), why can’t we at least try to be good neighbours to others?

AFTERWORD: Yes, I believe there is too much solitude in this world and we should be more caring and “neighbourly” towards other fellow human beings.  But the neighbourly we speak of here is more like in the biblical sense of considering every other human being as our “neighbour” and thus doing good to all other human beings. That is a concept I support fully. What I've spoken of here is of not respecting our literal neighbours right to privacy and peace.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

On my life

It’s August 2014 and it’s been too long since I've written anything here. A lot has been happening in my life. I’m happy, but a lot has happened.

Woodworking. I’m still woodworking. Still loving it. The last thing I've made is to replicate a plastic step-stool I have (because I’m short) so I can have one in my workshop and one inside the house. I've slowed down from buying tools too, but I can’t guarantee how long that will last.

Lego. I’m moving the Lego from the spare bedroom to a large display cabinet I got for my living room. I was hesitant at first to put them in a “fixed” position such a display cabinet or shelf, but now I much prefer to have them within easy view from the couch.

Work. Work is fine, but sometimes things frustrate me. On slow days I get frustrated with the fact that if I don’t see patients then I don’t get paid. On busy days I get frustrated with scheduling issues. Often I get frustrated with certain patients’ expectations of special treatment. More often I get frustrated at myself for allowing these patients’ behaviour, things other doctors or professionals from any other industry would not allow. Most days though something or someone will remind me why I do my job in the first place, and then I am satisfied.

Family. Well, not so much family as religion. I am still very dissatisfied with the way the religious group I belong to operates. My mother has to remain distant from me in order for me to protect her. And yet the threat isn't me; I am the one that loves her! The threat is posed by the religious group we belong too. I will admit that after my last blog, somebody confused a post I made on my facebook with the post I made about the things I love in life and told my mother some very vicious and hurtful lies about what I post online (she, of course, does not even use the internet to check things out herself). This resulted in my mother telling me she has never felt more ashamed of me in her life, and she is embarrassed of me because of the things I post online. Ashamed of me, of her daughter! Regretful of the fact I was born and the way I am. Yes, of me, and it’s not the first time she’s ever said that to me. And yet I love her and I know that in reality she loves me, but those words are the result of the religious group we belong too. That is sad. And there is nothing I can do to change anything. I can only love my mother, accept that she hasn't yet realised what I have (that we belong to a cult), and keep going about my life.

The last month. Gosh, I don’t feel I own this story wholly so I will try to remain respectful of other’s privacy and intimacies. In this last month I have at times felt so alone, at other times it was the closest I've ever felt to any other human being, so intrinsically-linked, so unbelievably happy, and then so terribly disappointed and angry. And yet, somehow, and definitely helped along because I know I am not alone, I remain hopeful. I feel I have this undercurrent of general positivity. I am strong because I am not alone. I feel strong because I choose to remain positive and optimistic despite some hell of an emotional roller-coaster. I feel like a soldier, but not a soldier on their own, but one that is part of an army. My army, our army, and though we may not win every battle, we are not beaten. I am so not done.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

On my obsessions

A dam koala... A koala I saw on a visit to a dam.
If you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been writing a lot recently – and I love writing! But turns out there are a lot of things I love also. Recently someone described it perhaps more correctly as obsessions; I get obsessed with certain things. Rewind back to a year ago and I was completely absorbed with guitars. I was obsessed with learning about them, taking them apart and modifying several, and even trying to learn to play. Well, I didn't quite get to the playing part due to having a mismatch in attitudes with my teacher who discouraged me to the point I now get panicked to even hold the guitars in my house, but that’s a story for another day. The list of other things I’m told I also obsess about are my Lego collection/village, rabbits (in all shapes and form), buying bed linen, and the one thing that has been consuming me day and night for the last month or two: woodworking.

My obsession with woodworking started from when I was a teenager, or perhaps even younger. See, I was always a nerdy kid, the kid who preferred going to the library at lunch time, and absolutely dreaded phys ed class. I wasn't good any activity that was physical, and I didn't enjoy it at all. I did, however, really enjoy visual and literary arts, and once I was introduced to it, I fell in love with manual arts too. Suddenly I enjoyed something that wasn't purely intellectual – and it didn't matter how good or bad you were, most things could be fixed somehow. I did manual arts for 3 years in high school, dropping it for the senior years to focus on the academic stuff. I remember I told my mum and siblings that one day I would become a doctor and I’d buy a house and in my house I’d have a workshop and then I would take up woodworking again.

Well, here I am. Coincidentally the house I bought happened to have this room at the back of the garage that, well, someone could turn into my workshop. And that’s what I've been doing. That’s what I do when I get home from work and on my days off. I recently took a 2 week holiday in which I think I spent 80% of my waking hours in that room. A large proportion of the remaining time was spent buying tools. And you know what? I had a great few weeks. It gave me a new focus and clarity to return to work and the rest of my life.

I read a woodworking blog once where someone asked, ‘what have you learnt from woodworking that also applies in general life?’ I made a light-hearted note recently when my router stopped working suddenly just as I was preparing to fix it to a table, that some things would rather die than lose their freedom. That was a joke, of course (for people like me), but a more memorable quote I once read said that a master woodworker isn't one who doesn't makes mistakes, but one who can cover up their mistakes well. And that’s more like my style of philosophy:  Everyone stuffs up; what matters is what you do next.

But, yes, the obsession part of this, as was pointed out to me, is I spend a lot of time buying tools, doing random odd jobs in my workshop, and watching, reading, and attending woodworking shows/magazines/videos. A LOT of time! My plants are going unwatered. I get itchy at work to go home and work on some unfinished project when I have gaps between seeing patients. I've had to re-calculate my budget to try to stop myself from overspending on tools and things for woodworking. I've been neglecting my own blog and reading so many woodworking blogs. It’s ironic, yet at the same time I think I’m finally learning about the importance of balance.  When my life isn't just work, it is so much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On Lance Armstrong

It was only when I watched this report on "smart drugs" that I finally understood how skewed our perception of Lance Armstrong is. See, in the report this scientist speaks of how taking these types of drugs can make people be able to read quicker, maybe retain some of that knowledge, maybe be able to retrieve it quicker and more consistently than if you didn't take the drug. The theory goes that if you do these things with greater ease, then you’ll be able to perform better on tests that measure how "smart" you are, and maybe even other types of academic tests. That's why some college students find using these drugs of advantage for their studies. But I asked myself, can I take some of these drugs and then go and pass a test on astrophysics or mathematics or computer programming? Could I? Not unless I've at last read the subject matter before! And that's just it; I can't be "smart" unless I put in at least some effort myself. All the best drugs in the world can't make me pass a test on theoretical physics if I don't even know what theoretical physics is.

I know, that's not a real comparison though, right? I mean if I want to pass a test on a subject matter it's probably because I at least have some interest in this matter, have heard of it, and for some reason have decided that this is important to me. If I had had access to them in medical school, would I have taken "smart drugs"? Well, I could argue that I obviously didn't need to to graduate. But what would have happened if I did? I could have taken less time to study as I may have being able to read quicker, learn quicker, and recall more consistently. I could have, in turn, dedicated more time to leisure activities. Or, I could have studied some more and got even better grades (for what benefit I don't know, but that's a possibility). The real question is would it be unfair to other students if some take ‘performance-enhancing’ drugs and others didn't? Would this whole conversation be unnecessary if every student in the class had access to these drugs? Well, this is exactly what Lance Armstrong's logic was even when he did confess to using (banned) performance enhancing drugs and techniques in international professional cycling competitions. What he told himself was that if everyone does it, it's not cheating and it’s not wrong and it's not even worthy of discussion.

But let me go back to my original scenario about "smart drugs" in academia. No, they don't work on just nothing, and if you have never heard about thermodynamics, taking all the best performance-enhancing drugs in the world will not magically make you know about it. You still won't pass tests that other students who have studied know about. You have actually no advantage over them despite the drugs - unless the drugs are not the only thing at play.

Lance Armstrong. Everyone feels entitled to call him a cheat and a liar. He's a bad person, right? Well, firstly let me state my opinion – and yes, this is just opinion. Certainly (as he admits) he has done and said some things to cover up his use of performance-enhancing drugs and techniques that hurt other people. He broke international cycling competition rules also. He denied other competitors a right to an equal playing field. And he tarnished the reputation of a sport and competitions a lot of people had a high regard for. But more than that, I think what people (and I mean people outside of the cycling world especially) feel most upset by is the selling of a false story. I mean, he was thought of a hero and an example of overcoming great adversity for equally great success in life (overcoming metastatic testicular cancer) and what is a very difficult sport. His story gave many people hope, inspiration, and motivation. This is why Lance Armstrong was so widely respected and admired. But that story (perhaps) only occurred because he gave himself unfair advantages. He molded and manipulated the circumstances so that the story would unfold the way it did: with him as the winner. That part of it I feel we have a right to be upset about, but I think for the majority of us, that is where our opinion of him should end.

Lance Armstrong  is a very flawed character, and yet I think we all somehow forget that the majority of us weren't there on the race track on bikes competing next to him.  A lot of us act as if he personally cheated against one of us. A lot of us believe he had no right to the admiration and success he had because of his use of performance-enhancing techniques. But the truth is how many of us have cycled 3,400km in 21 days? I haven’t and I don’t know personally many people who do. Yet a lot more people that don’t do this either, behave with criticism towards Lance Armstrong as if they had been his immediate competitors in the Tour de France. We didn't compete because we weren't motivated to, we lacked the physical and mental stamina to undertake such a marathon task, we simply were not up to the standard required for it at all. And that’s the thing I realised when I watched the report on “smart drugs”, that no matter what anyone says, drugs do not work on nothing. Something of the whole Lance Armstrong story was the individual himself (was it the motivation, the will, the mental determination, the hours of physical training and preparation, etc - who knows?). and not purely the performance-enhancing techniques he utilised.

So I think, yes, admit that we are angry towards Lance Armstrong for selling us a false story, for giving us hope based on false premises, for acting erroneously towards a lot of individual and sporting groups – but remember, we were not his competitors and are not and should not judge him as being any more or any less than we are: an imperfect human being.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On medicine and public money in Australia

Recently I was at a meeting organised by a community pharmacist to “remind” myself and other general practice doctors about a scheme available to patients that not only can help patients, but just also happens to be remunerated quite well by Australia’s federal health care system, Medicare. And I mean it pays general practitioners (GPs) well, and it pays pharmacists well. Suddenly another GP in the room asked just why are we being paid extra to do this when as GPs we have little to actually contribute to this patient’s particular health care encounter. The room fell silent. I couldn’t believe that finally someone had said what I had suspected for some time but didn’t have the courage to admit: that in some instances, the government does misspend money allocated for health care. I know, it seems so counterintuitive, so out of place, to suggest this at a time when the Australian government is saying that health care funding is becoming unsustainable, that the need for it has made it such a drain to government funds that it’s become unaffordable to fund alone on public money.

So where are the holes in the bucket with public health care funding? Well, in the interest of open disclosure I will admit that it’s been years since I worked in the public hospital system. I work in private practice, but as most doctors in private practice, still work under Medicare rules and (federal) funding. What I mean by this is, although we work in medical clinics that are privately owned, we receive Medicare money for part or all of the work we do. The choice to accept Medicare funding as the whole payment for services provided (i.e. “bulk-billing”) or only as part of the total fee is each practitioners choice. And the choice is not as simple as “some doctors are greedy and some aren't”.

I’m not a greedy person, but I refuse to accept the inadequately-low fees Medicare offers as payment for most general medical consultations. Let me explain this with a simple everyday example. Seeing a patient for a general medical complaint in a consulting room for 15 minutes costs the medical centre about $65-$71. That is what it’s going to cost to pay the doctor, administration staff, building running costs, etc. Now, Medicare Australia only pays $36.30 for this service. The federal government pays that not because they have calculated that that is what it actually costs for the medical centre to actually fund this consultation. No, this has been a federal budgeting decision that says that that is all the government is willing to pay for this service. It does not take into consideration the medical needs of the patient, the individual patient’s financial situation, and it certainly does not take into account the real costs of medical practice today. So, the government has essentially given the Australian public Medicare cards that you could roughly equate to “50% discount” cards (when used in private general medical practice), but they have unfortunately gone and told them that they are “100% discount” cards. And what’s more frustrating than patients not realising this, is that they expect this, politicians tell them they have a right to receive healthcare from private practitioners that are 100% subsidised (what is commonly called bulk-billing) using their 50% discount cards. What happens then is that medical centres have to charge individual patients the difference of what it actually costs to fund their healthcare and what the government is willing to pay on their behalf – or you go to a medical centre that has adjusted their practice not to suit the patient’s medical needs, but to try to make the smaller money from bulk-billing stretch (I won’t go into their practices, but there’s a reason I refuse to work in that system). But that’s not the story the governments tells the general public, honesty doesn't win votes, what they tell the public is that doctors are charging them more because they are greedy, not because governments are not funding their healthcare adequately.

Having said that, let me now discuss instances where I feel funds are not best justified. Some years ago, it was brought to the government’s attention that there is a high incidence of mental illness in the community. This affects a large proportion of people’s health, and ultimately it also becomes a drain on the social welfare system. It was identified that psychotherapy could help a lot of these patients with mental health problems. So it was then decided to allow Medicare to fund psychologist visits if it was deemed by a doctor that this was likely to benefit a person’s mental health. In order to encourage GPs to asses patient’s mental health and subsequently refer them to psychology services, Medicare offered substantial funding to GPs to provide this service. Considering the high incidence of mental illness, the cost of paying GPs and subsequently also funding psychology visits, this resulted in a massive new/extra expenditure for Medicare. So although the government wanted to encourage extra referrals to psychologists, they wanted to make sure that people weren't being unnecessarily referred who perhaps didn't require it. To ascertain this, Medicare introduced clauses that referring GPs had to obey, things like how long the consultation  must last, what must be covered in the consultation, what things had to be recorded in patient’s charts and in referring letters, etc. As time has passed, these things came to lose their function: most GPs could take less than 20 minutes (one of the initial clauses) to identify that a patient likely was suffering a mental illness that may benefit from psychotherapy and write a simple referral for this. In fact, I would argue that were it not for trying to meticulously (and unnecessarily?) follow all Medicare clauses, this could all be done in the course of a single standard medical consultation. Remove the clauses, respect doctor’s clinical judgement more, and get rid of special extra incentives to GPs. I know, I know, how dare I suggest a “pay-cut”? I’m not, really, all I’m suggesting is a redistribution of public funds within healthcare.

I could raise a similar argument about other general practice activities that are all clunked up with a lot of Medicare clauses, that pay a lot money (and I say this only comparatively to other general practice activities like consultations [which are underfunded]), and that could be just as well performed by doctors without either the extra clauses or the extra money. I mean things like home medication reviews where it is acceptable that pharmacist are paid for, but it is hard to justify why doctors should also receive an extra reimbursement when we are already expected to review patient’s medications as part of a normal consultation. A lot of people also seek ‘care plans’ to be eligible for some Medicare-funded allied health services. Why not just trust that GPs can make an assessment in a general consultation that a patient has a chronic illness and would benefit from allied health assistance? And while we’re on Medicare-subsidised allied health referrals, why is Medicare funding referral for therapies whose benefit’s on people’s health is not widely accepted and tested as beneficial? Medicare offers subsidised consults with osteopaths and chiropractors for patients with chronic illnesses (on a care plan) who have been referred by a GP. Why? Even some private health funds refuse to subsidise this (due to their unproved benefits) and the Australian government thinks it is worthwhile throwing precious health care dollars at it?!

To maintain my focus on what I have more personal experience with, I haven’t commented on how public health care money can be misdirected in public hospitals. However, you can speak to many public health employees in Queensland and they’ll all be able to tell you that a lot of public health care money is directed to bureaucrats and purely bureaucratic processes. Now, I will give you a simple example of how I have noted this happening more and more – even from my end as a private practitioner in the community.

Remember how one of the “perks” of private health insurance in Australia is said to be that the patient can nominate which specialist they are to see? Well, the opposite of this is that if you attend a public hospital, there is no choice given and people are triaged on clinical need, etc. as to which practitioner they see and in what relative time frame. Well, a few years ago I could refer a patient to a public hospital outpatient clinic for review with doctors of a particular specialty and exactly that happened: the patient received a letter to attend an appointment to the outpatient clinic of a particular specialty. Do you know what happens now? That when I send a referral for a patient to see a general surgeon, for example, in a few days’ time myself and the patient receive the first of a series of letters. This first one says this clinic is heavily booked, reconsider the referral, and go back to your GP to discuss this further (I tell patients to expect this letter and to ignore it). The second letter is just for me, and  it says that the patient has been given an appointment with a specialist (but they don’t state who) but because of Medicare rules, could I please tick the name of the specialist on the form, rewrite my referral, sign this new referral form, and then fax it back to them. But the patient already has an appointment booked with a particular specialist so that’s the specialist’s name I need to tick (I have to call them to ask them who this is before I can fax it back to them), and they obviously already know the clinical details I had on the original referral or the appointment would not have been booked. After I return the form to this hospital booking department, the third letter (and the only one that needed to be sent, really) arrives giving details of when the appointment is booked for. I ask myself why all this bureaucracy? And more importantly, which of my hospital colleagues in clinical roles lost their income so that this crazy bureaucracy  could be funded?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On happiness (again)

I just found this quote again from The Zahir, one of my favourite books by Paulo Coelho: "No one should ever ask themselves that: why am I unhappy? The question carries within it the virus that will destroy everything. If we ask that question, it means we want to find out what makes us happy. If what makes us happy is different from what we have now, then we must either change once and for all or stay as we are, feeling even more unhappy."

I haven't been happy lately. I mean, I don't even know if I'm unhappy, miserable, or just expectant. And I thought to try to solve my question of whether I am happy or depressed or what by asking myself this: what would it take for me to be happy? Well, I always thought that I'd like to have a family unit of my own, to provide a house for them, to provide for my family, to work a job I don't hate, and to raise a child and be a good mother. But lately it's becoming tiresome having to get up in the morning and go to work. I want my work day to go quickly. I want tomorrow to take it's time getting here. I want the weekends to last forever. I want to stay in bed longer, to eat more, and more time to sit and not interact with anyone.

I figure I'm not depressed as at least I still want something, even if they are avoidant things. I remember a time when I was depressed and I just wanted nothing at all, when nothing mattered at all. So at least I do want things now. But am I happy? Will I ever be happy? I think I want to be. Yet I remember another quote, another favourite of mine, and I remember why at the same time I want never to be fully happy. I've also quoted this, by Charles Becker, before: “I would urge that you be dissatisfied. Not dissatisfied in the sense of disgruntlement, but dissatisfied in the sense of that ‘divine discontent’ which throughout the history of the world has produced all real progress and reform. I hope you will never be satisfied. I hope you will constantly feel the urge to improve and perfect not only yourself, but also the world around you”.

Is that why I'm unhappy? Is it because I do always want to be progressive, someone who is always active and contributing? Or am I just depressed? Lately I've been thinking about the very real probability that I may actually have the chance to start my own family soon, and I am so wanting it, so contemplating it as a reality I want, that it's making the rest of my life seem tedious and just like a filler in time. And, oh God, the possibility of not having a family and a providing for them - that is pure misery! The thought of it can put me in tears and despair. Am I unhappy? Is this vision of "happiness" unattained slowly killing my spirit? Or is it something else? Sometimes I think the best way out of all the uncertainty that is weighing me down is to just ignore the questions and simply move forward.

And maybe it's not even forward that I need to go, but backward. That is to say that sometimes I think it's best I go back to simpler times; like the time I first learnt about positive and negative contingencies. Recently my pet rabbit became ill and I hadn't felt that miserable in such a long time. I was petrified she may die and was suffering. I wanted her so badly to be well again. She needed surgery and was at the vet hospital three nights. I worried endlessly about her. I thought that if she dies, my life will lose its centre of balance and I would be immensely sad. I cried at the thought of it. When I finally got to bring her home, she was still quite fragile and I was still worried, though not as much as previously. Then I remembered to set myself a positive contingency: as soon as she's eating, drinking, and pooing normally again, I will be happy as I will know she has recuperated. That happened a few days after she came home! And even though I was upset from other events in my life, I actually felt happiness again in my heart to see my little rabbit eating away at some food. Yes, such little things can make me happy if I allow them too. And it is also true, of course, that also little things can make me very unhappy if I allow them too. But for now, my rabbit is eating her hay, hopping around, and I am a happy woman again, moving forward :)