Risk Factors

The pandemic is doing bad things to people’s mental health. Isolation is not good for humans, in general.

My friend in Maryland is so over the edge, I find myself having to let go of her because I cannot agree with her scary logic. She is homeless. Her lease ran out. Her new contractor job at the FAA in DC doesn’t start until September. She has a dog that costs a lot of money to care for and is pushing 100 pounds, making finding an apartment difficult at best. She needs to find very specific housing–a house with a yard for the dog, hopefully rent-to-own. It may take months to find such accommodations. Is she looking for housing now? Nope. She is on the road with her dog, living at camp sites. What she calls a “vacation” I think of as scraping the bottom rung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (food, clothing, shelter). I know older people that take off and run around the country in an RV, but, and this is the point, they have a permanent address, a place to come home to.

And she is drinking a little. Probably not a lot. I told her about recent research showing that there was no level of alcohol consumption safe for the brain. She said she didn’t buy it. Fine. It’s her brain. The article in The Guardian talked of alcohol consumption as a “modifiable risk factor.” Meaning: it’s a lifestyle choice, completely within the individual’s control. Most risk factors for brain problems are not completely your choice. Brain health is an extraordinarily complex matter, involving blood flow, genetics, inflammation, intellectual stimulation, traumatic head injury, diet, exercise, and environmental pollution. (Can you tell I have read a fair amount of Dr. Daniel Amen?) Here is a risk factor you can walk away from and simply choose not to have. You drink at your own risk. And my friend has had precious little human contact since the pandemic began. Her judgment is beyond compromised and I blame the pandemic for a good size chunk of that. I now think of her like a wino on the street yelling at a critic, “At least I don’t drink beer!” Uhhhhhh……good for you?

Dr. Amen compares alcohol to sugar and caffeine. Let that sink in. Who doesn’t consume too much sugar sometimes? I’m not saying an occasional drink will kill a person, just that it is unnecessary. It is a whole lot easier to avoid alcohol than sugar. Improving one’s diet is truly a lifetime task.

Many years ago, I was a very conservative Protestant. I went to a church with not the world’s brightest people, but they possessed a certain basic level of common sense that I now think of as rare. Farmer folk. Their basic attitude was, “Why take unnecessary risks? Life is hard enough.” These were people that had lived hardscrabble lives. Perhaps they lacked courage, but they also lacked HIV, for example. People have always made fun of Southern Baptists, sometimes with good reason. Their list of things not allowed was always ridiculously long–and not always biblical. No dancing, no playing cards, no gambling, no drinking, no sex outside of marriage, etc. The Bible says nothing about dancing or playing cards. So it was always easy to dismiss them. The problem? Their basic attitude is correct, even if the application seems beyond the pale. I learned growing up that it is a whole lot easier to stay out of a bad situation than it is to extricate yourself from one once up to your eyeballs in it. Taking personal responsibility prevents a whole lot of problems.

I used to watch way too much true crime TV. Here is a fairly common scenario. A woman goes to a bar or a casino alone on a Friday evening and is never seen again. I am not saying that every woman going to a bar alone on a Friday night is going to end up in a shallow grave in some dude’s back yard; I am only saying that she is taking a risk that her friend staying home watching Jeopardy! is not taking.

Many years ago, one of my cousins drove drunk and ran over a guy. She didn’t get much time because there were extenuating circumstances. The guy she ran over had actually attempted suicide by walking into traffic previously. There is plenty of blame to go around. She only had a blood alcohol level of .1, not fall-down drunk, but still above the legal limit. The point? It wouldn’t have happened at all had she taken a cab, drank at home, or simply not imbibed in the first place. She made a series of poor choices and someone is dead because of it. She has to live with that for the rest of her life.

I want to be supportive of my friend, but my conscience won’t let me endorse some of the unnecessary risks she is taking. She wants my approval and she ain’t got it. Circling the drain is her choice, but I’m not going with her. I really desperately hope she wakes up soon and realizes how scary her behavior is. I don’t want her to get robbed at some national park or raped or any other horribly traumatic thing. Right now I feel like I am more concerned for her welfare than she is.

About cdhoagpurple

I live in Michigan. I was Greek Orthodox (and previously Protestant), but now am more Buddhist than anything. I am single now (through the till-death-do-you-part clause of the marriage contract). My husband Barry was a good man and celebrated 30 years in AA. I am overly educated, with an MBA. My life felt terminally in-limbo while caring for a sick husband, but I am free now. I see all things as being in transition. Impermanence is the ultimate fact of life. Nothing remains the same, good or bad.

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