We are so connected these days. So switched on. So linked in, if you’ll pardon the pun. Watching my girls during their swimming lessons, I can be texting someone, facebook chatting with someone else, and checking my email all at the same time.

For keeping track of friends it’s wonderful. For knowing what loved ones overseas are up to, it’s amazing. Sharing photos – brilliant (although I must admit I am a trifle paranoid and refuse to post photos of my kids on facebook – it’s facebook’s policy that they can do whatever the hell they like with my photos that I find disturbing).

For keeping in touch, for really communicating? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I think it’s widening the disconnect, and replacing real community with a digital facsimile that just doesn’t stack up.

It’s wonderful for getting to know people on a surface level – I have connected with parents from my daughters’ school on there, and we know each other’s politics much better than we would have otherwise.  We share opinions on world events, and connect over things that perhaps we wouldn’t have found out otherwise.

When I’m lost in a strange place
Scared and alone
When I’m wishing for home
That’s when I think of you

But time and again I find that I think I know what’s going on in all my facebook friends’ lives. As though they must surely post everything significant that they do or feel online. As though clicking “like” or making a passing comment on their status is actually communicating. Really connecting.

It’s not.

We are social animals. Seeing each other’s faces is important. Touching each other, even if it’s just a hand shake, is crucial to us both physiologically and psychologically.

There are things even I won’t post on facebook, or on my blog (astounding, I know). There are feelings and traumas in my life that I can’t share online. There are connections I can’t make digitally that flow effortlessly over coffee.

This is not to say that it’s not possible to connect electronically. I have friends overseas with whom I have built intense and enduring friendships largely via email. But that’s personal, one to one email. It’s not public status swapping on facebook. It’s a direct and personal communication. Sometimes it’s even possible to share things via email that would be much harder to share face to face.

The danger, I think, lies in believing we know what’s going on in each other’s lives on the basis of our public personae. We run the risk of facebook usurping our real community. Filling a space in our busy lives that would otherwise be filled by calling each other, or catching up for coffee. “No need to do that,” I think. “She’s fine, just busy.” When in reality I have no idea how she actually is.

I saw a great post (on facebook!) the other day suggesting that the reason we feel insecure is that we are comparing our “behind the scenes” with everyone else’s “highlights reel”. And I think it goes deeper. I think we are replacing our in-depth, behind-the-scenes tours with glimpses of the highlights reels. We’re never even looking into each other’s eyes anymore.

I’m always thinking of you
It’s all that I can do
I’d go mad not being with you
If not for the thought of you
The promise of dreams come true
I’d go mad not being with you

That’s when I think of you – 1927.

I think it’s time I made a conscious effort to get off the computer (my goodness, how many times have I said that?) and call people. Organise more coffees. Have more dinner parties. Arrange more reunions. Tonight I’m blogging about it. Tomorrow I’m going to start doing it. I wake early. Why not join me? You can call anytime.

The antibiotic dilemma

Evidence is rising that taking antibiotics is a bad idea if you don’t really need them. It’s increasingly clear, too, that we are very bad at knowing when we really need them. A worse than average cold, or one that goes on too long, leaves us reaching for a prescription. Doctors bemoan the fact that patients are demanding antibiotics when they have a virus. Not only do antibiotics not treat viruses at all, taking them when you don’t need them can cause antibiotic resistance in bugs you do have.

Studies are showing that taking antibiotics leaves you less responsive to them for at least 12 months – which means that taking them when you don’t need them can lead to them not working when you do.

Last Friday I went to see a GP because I had a persistent sinus infection. I had not seen this particular GP before, but I couldn’t see my regular GP because she was fully booked, and this one was new in the same practice. The first thing she said to me after I described my symptoms was “time for antibiotics, don’t you think?” I was a little taken aback at how fast we had arrived at drugs, and I asked her what made her think it wasn’t a virus. She immediately backed off, saying “It could be a virus, don’t take antibiotics yet – we take too many antibiotics, don’t we?” but nonetheless, I left that office with a script for penicillin, and instructions not to take them yet, but to take them if I needed them.

She gave me no clear guidelines on how to recognise whether I needed them or not. So here I am, it’s Tuesday night. My voice comes and goes, my head feels as though it is going to explode, and my face feels as though it has been ram-packed with concrete. Do I need them now? Is it a viral or bacterial infection? The doctor said not to bother coming back, just fill the script if I needed to. So after much agonising during the day (and a certain amount of agony driving the process), my husband has gone off to get the script filled for me.

Normally I would applaud a doctor leaving decisions in my hands. I don’t let doctors push me around, and prefer to make informed decisions on my own health care. But in this case, the doctor didn’t know me, and had no way of knowing how responsible I would be with that script. I could have gone and got it filled immediately – and indeed it was pretty clear that she intended me to, until I questioned the need for antibiotics up front. Only then did she change her tune and tell me to wait.

Articles in the media bemoaning our use of antibiotics frequently quote GPs complaining that people demand them, but I don’t see that as an excuse for offering them the moment I set foot in their surgery. It is surely an essential part of the GP’s role to educate patients on when antibiotics are appropriate and when they are not. It is crucial both to individuals and society that inappropriate use of antibiotics stops, yet doctors like mine hand them out without any real evidence that they are appropriate, and without even a warning lecture about finishing the entire course if I do start taking them. Not finishing a course of antibiotics is a major cause of antibiotic resistance – yet when was the last time your doctor warned you about it?

I have plenty of friends who leap onto antibiotics the moment they feel a tickle in their throats – and they could not do this without the willing and inexcusable complicity of their doctors, who should know better.

I still don’t know whether taking antibiotics is the right thing to do for me today, but I am going to do it anyway, because I have the script and I feel awful. That decision should not have been left in my hands. Of course, believing as I do that antibiotics are grossly overused, I should not be getting that script filled tonight. I should be making an appointment to see a better doctor tomorrow, and getting better advice. But I have yet to find a doctor who will do much more than wave a script when I present with symptoms like these.

I am tired, sick and miserable. My resistance is low. So I’m going to take the easy way out. Let’s hope my resistance doesn’t become high as a result!

Revisiting the halting problem

It’s always interesting to see what posts on this blog get looked at, and when they do. Recent posts on being kind to yourself and feeling overweight triggered big responses suggesting that they struck a chord with much of my readership. Recent articles get a lot of hits, but there are always random searches that dredge up old articles that surprise me when I reread them.

One such hit this week dug up the halting problem, in which I was reminded of the value of simply hanging out with my kids. I wrote that around 18 months ago, but it hasn’t stuck. I still get caught up in the chaos of work and simply keeping our collective heads above water, and I don’t make nearly enough time for the simple pleasure of playing with my girls.

We have a new pet, a sugar glider named Flash, of whom I will no doubt write a lot more in the weeks and months to come, but I am struggling to find time to bond with him. Bonding with him in the early stages involves just letting him sit in our laps in his pouch, not hassling him, but giving him time to get used to our sound and smell. Trouble is that requires me to be sitting down. I don’t do much of that. Too much to do. Too many deadlines whooshing by, or looming like ominous thunder clouds. So I berate myself – I am failing Flash, and failing our kids, because he has not bonded fully with us yet (we have had him for just over a week).

our sugar glider, Flash.

As I was chatting to a friend yesterday, bemoaning the way I shouted at my kids that morning, she told me I had to be kinder to myself. Somewhere in my head I see that as justifying my shouting – which is quite unjustifiable – but she has an important point. If I’m not kind to myself, I will have no chance of being kind to my kids. I am hurtling around in a frenzy of guilt and deadlines, trying to do everything fast and perfectly. Trying to meet a whole slew of self-imposed obligations, many of which exist only in my own head.

I need to stop. I need to sit still. I need to breathe, and to reconnect with my family, my friends, and indeed myself. Bonding with Flash may be the key to forcing me to slow down. Indeed, part of the reason for getting a pet was to try to lower the stress levels in the house, but it never dawned on me that he might force me to sit still. Sugar gliders are not known for stillness.

So over the next few weeks I am going to try to let Flash teach me to be still. He is a quivering bundle of speed, so it may be a challenge for him, but I think he’s up to it. Flash! Aaaah…saviour of the universe!