Last week, the Guardian ran a story from the first global scientific review that the world's insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a 'catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosytems', and with it 'catastrophic consequences for the survival of mankind'. According to environmentalists, it's probably impossible to overstate the importance of this and to be sure, the article is terrifying. Yet, a wilful ignorance and general complacency appears to have descended. Nothing is more important than Brexit, independence, some bloke with a dodgy sweater participating in the BBC's 'Question Time' too often, is it?
Wrong. All of the above are but fleeting irritations in the face of the shocking consequences of insect extinction. Perhaps the lack of alarm is down to the scientists warning that the catastrophe will take place within 100 years. Phew. At least I won't be extinct. This kind of human short-sightedness about the gathering storm of mass extinctions and our ultimate destruction with them, reminds me of Thomas Hobbes' prophetic observation from the 17th century, that there is a general inclination of all mankind to 'a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death'. Planet Earth is screaming at us to pay attention, but the immediate desires of too many people seem to have deafened us to the most important issue of our time.
Mental health concerns, and the willingness to talk publicly about them, is a good thing – especially at this time of year when seasonally adjusted depression (SAD) is a general affliction. Depression is a complex illness that is difficult to describe without resorting to metaphor. For me, it's like a heavy black theatre curtain that closes abruptly, with normal life – family, loved ones and friends – safely behind it, but you're stuck, alone, trying desperately to find the opening in order to escape. The experience can be very frightening.
A useful analogous condition for depression is the illness known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). A crippling affliction that besets those who worry obsessively about flaws in their appearance – 'flaws' that others find unremarkable, not even noticeable – it appears to be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. The affliction can lead to profound unhappiness as sufferers struggle to mend themselves, often by having recourse to plastic surgery after plastic surgery. But since the problem is not in their physical condition, but in how suffers perceive themselves, these surgeries are often to no avail, and frequently worsen the condition.
For me, depression can be described as character
dysmorphic disorder. Behind the heavy, black curtain the depressive often feels like a worthless piece of s**t, deeply flawed, doesn't deserve to feel pleasure, agonising over life's mistakes…on and on it goes. I haven't been able to find any literature on character dysmorphic disorder, but I'm sure it must be a thing.
I try to cope with the annual bout of SAD by trying to do things that don't require much physical energy as at its worst, a visit to the bathroom is a chore. So, I increase Vitamin D3 intake, use a light lamp every morning, strictly no alchohol, and find something to engage the non-emotional part of the brain, but nothing too taxing. In my case, the children's computer game, 'Toy Blast'. For over three-year-olds, take note, it is surprisingly calming and satisfying. Most importantly, get to a doctor as treatment may be required. Finally, the curtain does part eventually, but in my experience, it's best not to force it or get entangled with it, lest you end up in a heap on the stage. Go easy with yourself.
I also try to focus my attention on things that I know absolutely nothing about in search of diversionary topics to keep my mind occupied. For example, I started looking into Bitcoin. I don't understand it at all, so was determined to find out. It's been in the news a lot, and everybody knows it soared in value last year before tumbling again this year. But what is it? And why all the fuss?
Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency is a currency not backed by any government, as is the case with the US dollar, the UK pound or the EU Euro. And it exists only digitally, not in any physical form like a coin or a note. Why would anyone want Bitcoin? In the wake of the 2008 crash, when confidence in governments to regulate the financial markets hit an all-time low, many speculators began looking for a currency that was beyond the control of any government manipulation. Fed up with inflation because governments just print more money to pay off the national debt? Well, buy some Bitcoin. Worried that your national currency might tank once international markets realise the country isn't good for its debt (as is happening now in Venezuela)? Sell your pesos and buy Bitcoin.
Anarchists and libertarians everywhere love this anti-government aspect of Bitcoin. And this is just the beginning. Bitcoin is just the first application of an underlying technology called Blockchain. And Bitcoin is to Blockchain as email is to the internet. Email was the first application of the internet, but certainly not the last. Similarly with Bitcoin. When you see news about Bitcoin, think Blockchain – that's where the real action is. But I must confess, I still don't fully understand it and frankly, I can't summon the enthusiasm to find out more.