Firstly, thanks to everyone who replied to the last issue (on US’s dominant cultural presence and how it can frustrating even if you love a tonne of US cultural products). I don’t normally talk about things that close to politics, and was a bit worried about it, but was really interesting and I learned things.
Such as: Americans are in a bit of a double-bind, because if you act like people from other countries should automatically know stuff about the US, it seems arrogant, but if you act like they don’t know, people can be insulted that you think they wouldn’t know it. I don’t have a solution for that I’m sorry, but you might be interested in the bit after this! (‘Stereotype threat’)
Another thing that really struck me was someone saying that the alienating experience of feeling like you know the geography of New York better than you know your own hometown is not just an ‘other countries’ thing. It’s the same if you’re an American outside of any of the, let’s say, cities that have cop shows set in them.
As a follow-up to that conversation, I thought people might be interested in the concept of ‘stereotype threat’, because it affects pretty much everyone at one time or another.
Basically it’s when you find yourself in a situation that aligns with stereotypes about your culture/gender/age etc, and you become super self-conscious about your behaviour and whether you’re confirming the stereotype.
So, to use the above topic, you’re overseas and American and you don’t know the answer to something just because not everyone knows the answer to everything but if you say you don’t know, people will think you’re just proving their prejudices were right, and you start to feel all prickly and stressed.
And, as anyone who has ever lost the ability to type when someone’s looking over their shoulder knows, that stressful prickly self-consciousness tangles you up and means you actually are more likely to perform badly on the task. And if you’re me, you feel the urge to announce to something like “I’m bad at maths because I skipped all my classes in high school, not because I’m a woman!” to the general air even though no one’s actually paying attention.
They can be good stereotypes as well. You might be proud of a skill because you trained really hard for it, but then you’re in an environment that feels hostile and suddenly feel like showing you’re good at it will just reinforce stereotypes about your sexuality or whatever it is.
And you can lose track of what your ‘authentic’ feelings were towards something:
It’s hard if you confirm a stereotype and it’s hard if you violate a stereotype and it’s hard if you think you’re violating the stereotype only because you hate it so much.
— Angela Chen, Ace
As a very trivial example, almost all women (Western women?) have had a weird journey with the colour pink.* You start out liking it because your parents gave you some cool pink toys, and then you go through a teenage phase of “I hate pink, I don’t want to be seen as ‘just a girl’” and then later “fuck you, I love pink, there’s nothing shameful about being feminine” and then you try to figure out what your non-reactionary feelings are about pink but by that point it’s kind of tricky to tell.
* Probably not just women, gender is a whole mess
I used pink because it’s trivial and I don’t really want to list out more serious examples, but you can easily imagine them.
“Christmas Eye”: possibly the most specific disease ever?
Christmas Eye is a ‘monocular’ disease (only ever affects one eye) that people get between November and January, only in a few small areas in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales (see photo below, PS sorry Tasmania).
(It’s also known as “Albury-Wodonga Syndrome” — Albury-Wodonga is a town that is actually two towns that sit either side of the Murray River, which forms the Vic/NSW border.)
It is excruciatingly painful — “on par with childbirth” according to people who’ve gone through both — but does no permanent damage and is not contagious.
And until a couple of years ago, they didn’t know what caused it.
Turns out it’s a beetle! A local beetle full of blistering, toxic acid. If you accidentally crush it and some gets in your eye, it causes “acute corneal erosion”. And the beetle life cycle means they’re all hatching around Christmas time in that little area. [Source]
(Acute corneal erosion sounds and is terrible, but your eye is ridiculously good at healing compared to most parts of the body, people have splashed molten metal on their eye surface and been fine although do not test this, I don’t have professional indemnity insurance.)
If you know of any diseases more specific than that, please tell me!
I’m sorry but this puppy is so dusty. You need to click through to believe.
Some replies that really sum up my feelings about the dusty puppy:
why is the puppy so dusty
i can’t believe how dusty he is
this puppy is the clown car of dust
Leprosy myths! It doesn’t cause stuff to just drop off, it just stops you feeling pain
Which is a bad thing.
The main effect of leprosy is nerve damage. People with leprosy injure themselves a lot — you don’t realise the hot stove is hot so you leave your hand there for a while — and they also don’t notice that they’ve been wounded, especially if it’s somewhere you don’t normally look (which is more places if you live in “mirrors were expensive” times), so they don’t clean/bandage/treat the wound, it gets infected, maybe gangrenous, NOW stuff drops off. But it’s all caused by not feeling pain.
The other thing you probably know about leprosy is wrong too. It’s not actually that contagious. Leper colonies were unnecessary. You can work with someone with leprosy, or live in the same household with them, without getting infected, although you probably couldn’t share a bed with them.
In medieval Europe, people with leprosy were given bells to carry around with them, so everyone knew they were coming and could get out of the way. But again: it’s just not that contagious.
It must have been so lonely. Social distancing but it’s just you.
Leprosy is still around — it’s quite treatable but you need 6 months’ of a couple of different medications, so people with poor access to medical care are still vulnerable to it.
A Man Said to the Universe
by Stephen Crane
A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
via the ever-excellent Poetry Foundation
Sex differences and immune systems: why women are more at risk of long covid and chronic disease
This is not a surprise, because women are generally more resilient against acute disease and more susceptible to autoimmune disease (chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, coeliac disease, lupus, ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis, as well as IBS, allergies, eczema and asthma). This includes trans women who’ve transitioned medically.
And this is because women have ‘overactive’ immune systems — we have a more intense immune response, which means we fight infections more effectively, but our immune systems are also more likely to attack such threats as pollen, gluten, and the protective layer around our nerve endings (myelin).
This also means women typically have more severe symptoms of cold and flu, because the misery of those is largely the immune response (sneezing, coughing, fever, etc. are all your body trying to eject/boil the virus), but they shake it off faster.*
(There is so much more that goes into your immune response than just your sex obviously, and there’s a whole lot of social/cultural stuff — like I bet people with paid sick leave and no kids get over colds more quickly because they can rest properly — but it’s still interesting.)
* I’ve talked about this before, but this is why someone who comes into work with a cold but says it’s okay because “it’s not a bad one” is talking nonsense. They can’t predict what immune response you’ll have to their virus. It might be an okay cold for them and a terrible one for you. Again, look at covid. There’s worse variants, but people can respond to the same variant very differently. Hopefully the era of people placidly telling you they have a cold while they sit two feet away from you is over?
Unsolicited Advice: How to clean a cluttered space when you’re overwhelmed
This comes via Strugglecare on TikTok, so you can watch the vid if you want to see it in action.
No matter how cluttered your space is, remember it only has 5 things in it.
Things that have a spot
Things that don’t have a spot
Don’t look at the whole morass, just look for one category at a time.
Go around with a garbage bag and throw all the trash in it. (Or, okay, look, Trash then Recycling, fine, two items, but I would argue that if you’re really struggling, don’t beat yourself up because you threw away a few pieces of cardboard.)
Don’t take it down to the bins right now.
Pick up any dirty dishes and put them in the sink. Don’t wash them right now, just put them in the sink.
Pick up any clothes and put them in a basket.
Choose a section of the house that you would most like to be clean
In that section: pick up the things that have a spot and put them in a pile.
In that section: Put everything else (the things that don’t have a spot) into another pile.
Now you have a clear, uncluttered space with some piles in it, which is a lot easier to deal with.
Take the trashbags out to the bin.
Wash the dishes.
Clothes: You CAN separate them out into clean and dirty, but you can also just wash them all, and who cares if some clean ones get re-washed. You are overwhelmed, the extra water usage is a cost worth paying right now.
Put the things that have a spot where they belong.
Now you just have one pile of things that you need to find or make a home for.
You can do the things that do/don’t have a place in the next section of the house, or you can just relax in the clear part of your house and do the next bit tomorrow.
The biggest trap here is that it involves a little bit of double-handling (make the pile, then put the things in the pile away). The Getting Things Done method is very against this, it has a “touch it once” policy. If you’re like me, you really resist double-handling, because it feels inefficient. But actually what’s way more inefficient is picking up an item that has a home, gazing around at your complicated cluttered space, and then sitting down in despair.
Once you have a clear space with two piles in it, everything will be a lot easier.
(Trash, dishes and clothes are easier because they have one location they go to, it’s simple).
When you’re having a bad executive function day (whether caused by stress, ADHD, depression, general pandemic overwhelm, whatever), what used to be an array of individual items that can be handled one by one becomes just like a swamp of static.
But remember, there’s only 5 things.
Thanks for reading what turned out to be the disease-themed issue! I don’t know why, sometimes my brain just feels like it wants to write about certain things.
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Take care, and I hope no one develops a condition named after a seasonal holiday.
Where are the comments?
Someone mentioned (in an email which I haven’t replied to yet, sorry), that they didn’t know where the comments are in these newsletters. Maybe that’s other people too! It’s this little grey icon in the footer of the email:
Also, I try to put a ‘Leave a comment’ button somewhere in each issue — clicking the button won’t actually make you leave a comment, it’ll just take you to the comments section.
You can also go to thewhippet.substack.com and see an archive of old issues with comments attached.