Ejo #135 – Promises

This one’s about my Mum.  As many of you know, her life as a girl in Greece was difficult.  At the age of four, she fell down a well and broke almost every bone in her body.  She was forced to work as a shepherdess from the age of eight and unceremoniously yanked out of school when she was 12.  She was beaten, berated and told that she’d been born only to provide an extra pair of hands, while at the same time castigated for being an extra mouth to feed.  Her parents never told her they loved her.  And when, at the tender age of 16, she resisted their attempt to sell her off to a man three times her age in an arranged marriage, she was shipped off to a country she’d barely even heard of, in order to work and send back her earnings. 

My Mum’s resilience was remarkable.  She may have been scarred by her formative years, but her ability to rise above her past was something I’ve always admired.  A wonderful example of her courage was when, at the age of 44, she enrolled to study a course in natural medicine at the local college.  The year was 1991 and, after years of dreaming about it, and talking about it, and thinking about it, she finally just did it.  She went to school and learned, academically, the healing properties of plants.  She overcame a lack of confidence in her English, a lack of formal education, overwhelming social anxiety and a damaged self-esteem in order to pursue her passion.  Like I said, remarkable. 

Nerd. ❤️

Being a self-absorbed, 19 year old asshole at the time, I can’t remember what gave her the courage to finally take the plunge.  I know that my Dad would have supported her unconditionally.  Had it been a new year’s resolution?  Had someone challenged her?  Did she just wake up one day and decide to do it?  I’ll never know.  Of course my Mum was an exemplary pupil, and I remember her spending hours studying every day (while I, in my misspent second year of university, wasted my hours drinking copious amounts of beer and playing cards in the university common room).   Mum graduated, and then spent the next several years continuing to study, continuing to learn, reading books, posting on forums, asking questions – always striving to know more about her craft.  Thirsty for more knowledge.  She grew her own plants, her own garden laboratory, and constantly experimented with them (OK, fine, sometimes on us kids).  She made tinctures and creams, oils and poultices.  She was always concocting something for someone, always drying herb cuttings, always fermenting, infusing, mixing, soaking, powdering.  Always. 

A few of my Mum’s thousands of handwritten labels. She literally had a remedy for everything, always within arm’s reach.

In 1999, my Mum took all the knowledge she’d acquired over the years and actually wrote a goddamn book, a compendium of plants and their uses.  Years of study and personal experience finally culminated in her life’s work.  My parents spent a shitload of money to self-publish thousands of copies of the book in Greek.  She actually wrote most of it in English, but because she felt her English wasn’t great she hired a translator to transcribe her notes to Greek.  I kind of wish she hadn’t done that.  Over the years she sold a few copies here, a few copies there.  But selling books on consignment is a real bitch, and it’s hard to make money in Australia from a niche book written in a minority language.  Not that getting rich was ever my Mum’s goal.  Her goal was to heal people.  To help them.  My Mum was driven.  Single minded. 

The title loosely translates as, “A Family Guide: Herbal Remedies”.

Perhaps that’s something I inherited from her.  Growing up, I was rather goal oriented.  I wasn’t necessarily great at achieving the goals, but boy did I like setting them.  I used to be quite the new year’s resolution queen.  I’ve come a long way since my very first attempt at new year’s resolutions, possibly inspired by my Mum but, let’s be honest, also possibly inspired by Dolly magazine.  I was a 16 year old maniac cultivating an elaborate and detailed sub-world inside the four walls of my bedroom.  Here, lifted straight out of my handwritten diaries, is a taster of the chaos and mayhem that emanated from my addled teenage brain that first day of 1987:

  1. Learn to dance and sing like Madonna
  2. Fill my wall with Madonna posters
  3. Meet five new, gorgeous guys
  4. Lose weight (still at it, 34 years later)
  5. Become a good photographer and create a portfolio of self-portraits.
  6. Get mostly As and some Bs in my half-year report
  7. Buy lots of cool, trendy clothes
  8. Enter, and win, the Dolly covergirl competition (I’m so embarrassed)
  9. Get some really good disco tapes
  10. Become the biggest flirt – watch out guys, here comes Chryss Stathopoulos!!!!  (I actually wrote these words in my diary, and I am now crying from shame)

OK, so I sucked.  Big time.  The only one of these I achieved was having a wall full of Madonna posters.  And even today, I still have no idea how to flirt.  Jump forward two years to January, 1989, and I’d somewhat figured this shit out: 

  1. Kiss at least one guy.
  2. Don’t eat any chips.

Definitely more attainable.  I easily ticked both of these off and got a taste for how good it felt to achieve annual goals (also: how good it felt to kiss boys).  In 1990, ten years before I’d even heard of Dr. Atkins, I gave up bread for the year.  Just because!  And yeah, I totally got off on people’s reactions when I told them about it.  I liked the incredulous attention.  Yes, I was a weirdo.  But I was doing me, and for an angsty teenager with low self-esteem, that actually felt really good.

The next year I went without chocolate for 12 whole months.  Sounds impossible, but it was pretty easy once I decided that it was going to be a “no matter what” situation.  I simply wouldn’t put chocolate in my mouth.  You don’t even realise how ubiquitous chocolate is until you decide to give it up.  That shit is socially difficult to say no to.  Especially at easter.  People are always like, c’mon just have a little bite.  But I resisted and it felt like a great achievement.  I learned the value of not always giving into your impulses.  And for a young teenage girl who’d regularly polish off a family sized block of Cadbury’s Snack chocolate in my bedroom whenever I felt sad, I reckon that’s pretty impressive.  For the next two decades, I alternated between not eating chocolate for a whole year, and not eating bread for a whole year.  It was just something I did for discipline.  To prove to myself that I could. 

I think the reason that I stopped, in the end, was age.  Just getting older, wiser.  You could say I became more mature.  Doing something for the sake of it held less appeal than when I’d been younger.  I gave myself free rein to eat chocolate and bread whenever I wanted, at around the same time that my friend Nicole introduced me to her version of new year’s resolutions.  Her unique selling point was that she’d set the same number of goals as the number of the year itself.  So in 2009, she had nine goals.  And in 2010, she had 10 goals.  I loved this concept and immediately started planning my 11 goals for 2011.  To me, a resolution veteran, this felt revolutionary.  It was a fresh new take and I was totally onboard.  I can’t remember all of my goals for that year, but I definitely remember one of them.  And it was to write an ejo a month.  As you can see, ten years later, this is a goal that I am very proud to still be fulfilling.  I can’t imagine not writing these ejos.  They have become part of who I am, in a far healthier way than being known as the girl who doesn’t eat chocolate. 

Some of my 15 for ‘15 goals included making my Mum a photo calendar of her and my Dad (which she loved) and taking a self-portrait every single day of the year (which was an incredibly rewarding challenge in terms of how I saw myself, and also with the improvement of my photography and editing skills).  I also set myself the goals of running in a 10km race (didn’t do it), doing yoga three times a month (didn’t do it), attending a writer’s group once a month (didn’t do it), studying a photography course (didn’t do it), having a massage once a month (I couldn’t even do this one) and losing 7kg (sound familiar? didn’t do it).

As you can see, my goals were becoming more difficult to achieve.  And I’d regressed back to the kind of bullshit nonsense I’d been mindlessly slapping together as a 16 years old.  Also, the fact that I wasn’t able to tick off so many of them was actually starting to tick me off.  And really, I was just finding it more and more difficult to think of so many goals as the years went on.  Eleven goals was no problem.  But coming up with 16 new goals for 2016 was tedious. It wasn’t fun anymore and I wasn’t really getting much out of it. So, when 2017 rolled around I simply decided to give it all up.  For the first time in 30 years, I was resolution and goal-free.  And it was so liberating.  Just “being” was a luxury.  Just living my life was a treat.  I somehow continued to achieve things that I wanted to do.  And I didn’t go crazy on bread or chocolate or ice-cream or chips.  I was just kind of a grown up about it all.  Ha, imagine that.  Me, adulting!

Since then, I haven’t really missed “doing” new year’s resolutions.  I live my life as best I can.  I do yoga every day, I try to eat well (shoutout carnivore), and I try to be a good person.  I meditate every day in the shower.  I give to charity.  I read a lot.  I have therapy.  I think about how my actions and words affect other people, and I strive to be the best version of myself on a daily basis.  Without pressure.  I no longer need the gimmick of a yearly goal in order to “improve” myself.  I just aim to do that in every moment.  I am proud of myself for that, and I know my Mum was proud of the woman I turned out to be. 

My beautiful Mum died two years ago today.  Nothing will bring her back, but I have thought of one way in which I can keep her spirit and memory alive.  I have decided (resolved?) to do something this year to honour her.  And, along with three other projects, I’ve set myself a target date of the end of this year.  I’m not calling them new year’s resolutions, because they’re not.  They’re just things I want to do. 

So, what are they?  OK, first up I want to learn the lyrics so I can sing along to the 1980 song “The New Rap Language” by Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous Three.  Yep, I am a 49 year old white woman.  Who gives a shit?  I love the idea of the mental and linguistic challenge of learning this eight minute, densely-worded rap.  Studies have shown that mental exercise, things like learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument, can stave off degenerative, neurological conditions.  So this is my fun way of fighting dementia.  Yay!

Next, I want to learn how to pick a lock.  I’m not talking about using a bobby pin to jimmy open a flimsy suitcase fastening.  No, no, I mean using a lockpick toolkit to open a serious padlock or door-lock, secret agent style.  I promise I’m not planning on using this skill for any nefarious reasons.  I just reckon it’d be a pretty fucking cool skill to have.  And, once again, learning a new skill, learning how to use my fingers in new, dexterous ways, creating new neural networks; it all has to be good for my brain, right?

My third goal of the year is to plan my funeral.  Nope, I’m not intending on dying any time soon, so don’t worry about that.  I’ve just been thinking about this one for a while.  Planning my Mum’s funeral brought my sisters and I together, giving us something to focus on other than our excruciating grief.  It was all-consuming and helped to fill our days.  But it was hard, man.  It was fucking hard.  You’re making big decisions at a time you’re barely capable of getting out of bed in the morning.  When I die, I don’t want David and my sisters to have to go through that.  Also, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of my parties, but bitches, I throw down an epic event!  I don’t mean to brag, but we’re talking about the kind of party people talk about for years afterwards.  People are still talking about the 7am cucumbers in the jacuzzi from the first house party David and I threw in 2011.  Living in Dubai has always been hard for me, because I haven’t made many friends.  So whenever we visit Melbourne, it’s become a tradition to throw a massive shindig, get everyone I love together and go a little crazy.  Drink, dance, carouse!  Over the years, I’ve honed my skills as a party planner and I’m pretty proud of some of the bashes we’ve thrown. 

There was the gorgeous garden party at Madame Brussels, the 80s party complete with awesome tunes, daggy fluoro outfits and plenty of jello shots.  There was the picnic in the park with bottles of rosé, yummy finger food and a crazy thunderstorm.  In 2016 we held a weekend-long, ten year anniversary party at a log cabin in the mountains, and most recently, we celebrated David’s 50th birthday with a wild Studio 54 party.  Yes, there was a white horse.  Yes, the police were called.  I guess what I’m saying is that I like planning the details, I like creating the invitations, making the music video teaser, getting my creative juices flowing.  And most of all, I love all my friends gathering in one place to celebrate an occasion.  So why wouldn’t I want to plan the biggest, best, and most amazing party of all to celebrate my own life.  I know exactly what music I want played, and I want to make the video.  I don’t need eulogies. I won’t be able to hear what you say anyway, coz I’ll be dead. Instead, I want to tell you, my friends, how I feel about you. And what you mean to me. I’m gonna turn the whole fucken funeral thing on its head.  I’m going to do it my way.  And you’re all invited.

And finally, my passion project.  The goal that has the most meaning to me this year.  I want to translate my Mum’s book into English.  I want her knowledge, her work, her sweat and tears and inspiration to reach a larger audience than it currently has.  Hundreds of copies of my Mum’s book are sitting in a storage facility in Glen Waverley, gathering dust.  That’s not what she intended, it’s not what she wanted.  And it’s not what I want.  Maria Stathopoulos, the author, deserves to be read.  She deserves to be recognised and lauded and celebrated for her work and for her small, but worthy, contribution to humanity.  She wanted everyone to have access to the world of natural medicine, the healing properties of plants and herbs.  She wanted everyone to share her joy and enthusiasm and love of the natural world.  Her own personal antidote to our industrially, and corporately, manipulated existences.  And I will help her to fulfill that desire.  I will honour her. 

I’ve already started working on it.  Last year I commissioned my talented artist friend Anka to illustrate the plants that my Mum had photographed for her book.  There were 36 in total so it was a huge undertaking.  Each illustration took her between two to five days to complete, working with archival inks on heavyweight cartridge paper.  The project happened over five months, from May until October 2020, a period during which Anka, who is London based and works in hospitality to support her art, was locked down and not earning an income.  The assignment gave her some breathing space, a small, regular income and the opportunity to focus on her work.  I am so grateful that my Mum’s book was able to facilitate that.  I love every single one of Anka’s illustrations, and I know my Mum would have too. 

Anka’s beautiful drawings of my Mum’s dandelion, echinacea, rosemary and horseradish root.

I also asked my sisters to check if we kept any of Mum’s records or notes that might help me to translate the book, and Pieta actually found a bunch of floppy disks labelled “Mum’s book”.  Perfect.  Except who the hell has a floppy disk reader?!  No-one.  Pieta had to buy a FDD to USB drive and then convert the text to word documents.  I’ve been practicing my Greek too, so that I can fine-tune the translation (because google translate can only do so much).  Last year I picked up a few Greek magazines and I’ve spent hours just reading the words, not even understanding most of what I’m reading, in an attempt to re-familiarise my brain with the language that is actually my mother tongue. Three of my goals this year are just silly promises to myself. The last one is a very serious promise to my Mum. It’s not easy. None of this is easy, but I’m driven. Single minded.

#134 – Cholesterol Countdown for WHAT??!!

Remember late last year when I had my annual medical exam for work after a month of eating carnivore, and the doctor was absolutely appalled at my cholesterol results?  They were the highest figures he had ever seen, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that he was absolutely terrified for me, urging me on the phone to please start taking statins immediately so that I wouldn’t drop dead on the spot.  I objected.  I am extremely reluctant to willingly go down the slippery slope of a lifetime course of medication unless there is absolutely no other option.  And I knew that in this case, I could lower my cholesterol with diet.  So I asked him for the chance to do that, and I was given two months to prove that I could.  

To be honest, I may be a little bit proud of how ridiculously high these numbers are, especially the ones in red.
For reference, here are the average recommended cholesterol levels.

So why was my doctor so distraught for me?  He’s a super lovely guy, who’s been practicing medicine for more than 40 years and is very good at his job.  He’s a very caring doctor.  But, he’s old school and he’s operating on old information.  Doctors are incredible.  They study for many years to learn about the extraordinarily complex ways in which the body works, and I have a great deal of respect for them.  But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realise that it’s not a GPs job to keep up with all the latest medical research.  In my experience, doctors are generally useful for one of two things: issuing sick leave certificates and prescribing medication.  Actual treatment for an ailment is what referrals to specialists are for.  In Dubai particularly, you can’t see a doctor without walking away with a prescription for at least one medication.  Even if it’s just Panadol, docs be peddlin’. 

I’m glad that I resisted taking the statins.  After our appointment, I took a much deeper dive into the world of cholesterol research, and the role that statins play.  What I found, particularly pertaining to women, was eye-opening.  Author Nina Teicholz says, “In 1992, a National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute expert panel reviewed all the heart disease data on women and found that total mortality was actually higher for women with low cholesterol than it was for women with high cholesterol, regardless of age.”  Hmm!  And that was nearly 30 years ago.  Not coincidentally, it also turns out that there is absolutely no benefit to women of any age taking statins, and this report, published by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, supports that. 

Dr. Kendrick is a well known author of several books about nutrition, one of which is called The Great Cholesterol Con.  The dude knows cholesterol.  And this is what he says about it for people of my age, “As you get older, the higher your cholesterol is, the longer you will live.  This is a fact.  People with lower cholesterol are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis and other neuro-degenerative diseases.” 

If that’s the case, then how is it that we just “know” that cholesterol is bad?  How do we “know” that LDL cholesterol is even worse (it’s even called “bad cholesterol”).  No really, how do we “know” this stuff?  Spoiler alert: we don’t.  We are conditioned to believe it.  We are indoctrinated.  How on earth can something that our own body produces, be bad for us?  Around 30% of all our cell membranes are composed of the stuff.  And approximately 25% of the dry weight of the brain is cholesterol.  It’s so vital to its functioning that the brain actually makes its own.  We need it, or we will die.  Lierre Keith, author of the amazing book, The Vegetarian Myth, points out, “One of the main functions of the liver is to make cholesterol because life isn’t possible without cholesterol.”  So why would anyone want to reduce it?  

Probably because we are still being told that we have to.  Doctors use an algorithm to predict a person’s risk of developing heart disease based on factors like age, sex, ethnicity, blood pressure, LDL and history of illness.  If you get a score of 10, doctors prescribe you statins.  But, check this out.  According to the algorithm, once you hit 60, that’s an automatic score of 10, and doctors will prescribe you statins anyway.  Even if you are in perfect health, even if you have perfect blood pressure and optimal LDL.  WTAF!  It’s a huge double dip for the pharmaceutical companies.  You get the statins if your cholesterol is high.  And if you’re “old”, you get the statins anyway.  Which is absurd considering that there’s a proven, inverse association between LDL cholesterol and mortality in people over the age of 60. 

That cholesterol is even considered a risk factor for heart disease is sheer dogma.  The Lipid (or Cholesterol) Hypothesis, developed by Ancel Keys over 65 years ago (more on this mofo later), posits that high cholesterol causes vascular damage and/or dysfunction which leads to a build up of plaque on your artery walls, restricting blood flow, triggering a clot and ultimately leading to a heart attack.  It has been taught in medical school for over half a century, and most doctors (including mine) act on that information for the rest of their careers because they simply don’t know any better.  They never seek out clarification, and they never look for evidence to support the hypothesis.  If they did, they would discover that there is none.  In fact, there has never been a clinical study that has proven that cholesterol causes heart disease. Ever.

So let’s look at an alternative theory of correlation between cholesterol in the body and atherosclerosis.  It’s called the Response to Injury Hypothesis and it views the high level of cholesterol found in an atherosclerotic artery as the body’s way of responding to an artery that’s already been damaged.  Let’s say the artery was damaged by a high level of glucose in the blood, caused by insulin resistance.  The LDL rushes to the site as a protective “response to injury”, but unfortunately it is damaged when it becomes oxidised due to the presence of that high blood sugar.  This is when LDL actually does turn into bad cholesterol.  Oxidation takes a protective molecule (LDL) and turns it into something that contributes to harm.  LDL doesn’t cause heart disease, unless it becomes oxidised.  And, as long as you’re not a smoker, your cholesterol will never oxidise on a high fat, low carb diet.  It’s impossible. 

If you want to know how the medical profession became so trapped in an abusive marriage to the unfounded notion that saturated fat and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease, follow me down this rabbit hole.  The villain of the story is Ancel Keys, an American scientist whose dubious beliefs about saturated fat determined the dietary guidelines of an entire country which, more than sixty years later, is full of overweight diabetics dying of heart disease.  In 1956, Keys undertook the world’s first multi-country epidemiological trial (known as the Seven Countries Study), in order to prove his Lipid (or Cholesterol) Hypothesis.  By the time the massive study was published in 1970, he had become a master at cherry-picking through the copious amounts of data and fudging them to suit his hypothesis, leaving out all the data that didn’t support his theory.  For instance, data was actually collected from more than a dozen countries, but it was only the seven that proved his beliefs that were included in the final published paper. 

The study was flawed from the very beginning because Keys’ theory was one that he wanted to prove, desperately.  And that’s not how science works (or at least, not how it should work).  The study was never peer reviewed, and it was never replicated.  It was a shoddy paper that, despite never actually demonstrating causality at all, was framed as though it had.  Years after it was published, Alessandro Menotti, the lead Italian researcher in the trial, reviewed the data and discovered that, lo and behold, sugar was more strongly correlated to heart disease fatalities than saturated fat or cholesterol. 

But, due to a number of influencing factors at the time, Keys’ study was accepted as gospel, and subsequently adopted by the US government.  This happened despite prominent scientists protesting the study’s legitimacy at a congressional hearing.  And despite several other studies proving the exact opposite to be true.  Ancel Keys was an asshole and a bully, and he had powerful friends in the US government.  He had become so influential in the political and scientific worlds that he was able to quash any dissenting voices, ruining the careers of many promising scientists along the way. 

And so, from Keys’ study, the egregious USDA food pyramid was created and shoved down consumer’s throats.  The food manufacturers got on board the low-fat bandwagon and started producing items that were low in fat but, in order for them to be palatable, had to be high in sugar.  Funnily enough, the agricultural industry also suddenly became very keen to promote, and protect, the grain-heavy food pyramid, which shockingly still looks like this.  And here we are today with supermarket shelves packed full of products that our bodies don’t even recognise as food.  And people keep on getting fatter and sicker, and more dead. 

Flip this shit upside down, then we’ll talk.

It actually really boggles my brain that one man could have yielded so much power, and with such a profoundly fucked up result.  The idea that science should be pure and objective is a beautiful one.  When I studied Science at Monash University, we would conduct experiments with no bias, no agenda and with the truth as our ultimate goal.  Unfortunately, science in the real world is driven less by the urge to impress your professor, and more by inflated egos, frenzied publishing, heated competition and of course the influence of billions of dollars.  Of course there are many studies that are scientifically and objectively conducted.  But a large chunk of trials are funded by industry.  One such example is Coca Cola funding a study “proving” that Diet Coke is healthier than water.  Pharmaceutical companies funding studies “proving” that statins reduce the risk of heart disease, with little or no side effects, is another. 

There were several other studies from Keys’ time that clearly showed an inverse relationship between cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, but for some reason most of them were unpublished.  Buried, literally gathering dust in garages for decades, and only recently coming to light (did anyone say Minnesota Coronary Experiment?).  Now why would this be the case? 

I believe it’s because there’s too much money to be made from statins.  In the course of my research, I was shocked to learn that statins are the most prescribed medicine in the world, with over 200,000,000 people taking them every single day.  And the kicker is, once you start taking these meds you are stuck with them for the rest of your goddamn life.  So, statin prescriptions are increasing exponentially, cholesterol levels are plummeting.  And we’re all eating from the food pyramid, right?  But somehow heart disease is still the leading cause of death everywhere on the planet.  According to WHO, “The world’s biggest killer is ischaemic heart disease, responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths.  Since 2000, the largest increase in deaths has been for this disease.”

So, if millions of people are taking statins, and heart disease is still the biggest killer on the planet, who is actually benefiting from all those little pills?  Is it the patient?  Sure doesn’t look like it.  Is it the doctor?  Well, they might be getting a little kickback.  Nope, the big winner here is Big Pharma.  And they have absolutely no incentive to disavow us (or doctors) of the idea that we all need statins to survive.  And, of course, they encourage us to keep eating from that crappy food pyramid. And they’ll just keep handing out pills like candy (which, incidentally come with their own smörgåsbord of significant, negative side effects).  Shockingly, in 2010 a cardiologist published a paper suggesting that statins be handed out with Original Recipe Chicken Buckets and Big Macs.  Let. That. Sink. In. It’s absolutely diabolical. 

Pharmaceutical companies are famous for obfuscating the data from their in-house clinical trials.  Transparency is not in any of their mission statements.  And so, most of us are simply uninformed, or worse, misinformed.  And most of us don’t ever question the authority of our doctors.  Which is why people are so happy to commit to a lifetime of taking statins when a doctor prescribes them.  They are under the impression that the pill will save them from heart disease, and extend their life.  Isn’t that what we all want?  To live a long and healthy life?  A study, however, has shown that for those with a history of heart disease, taking statins extended their lives (on average) by only five days!!  And for those with no history of heart disease, their life expectancy was increased by an average of three days.  THREE FUCKING DAYS!!!!!  That’s the reward you get at the end of a lifetime sentence of daily pill popping (never mind the cost, never mind the side effects).  No thanks, you can count me out. 

And look, it’s not as if the medical profession hasn’t got it wrong before.  As Lierre Keith elegantly argues in her book, lobotomies, leeching, hormone replacement therapy, thalidomide, electric shock therapy etc. were all once considered fine medical treatments.  We know better now, and I have a feeling that one day we’ll know better about statins too.

So, while I am vehemently opposed to reducing my cholesterol, unfortunately we had to do it to keep our jobs.  So, the cholesterol had to come down.  And it had to come down a shit-tonne. So, how did we do it?  Every day, before lunch we’d start with a tablespoon of chia seeds that had been soaked in a cup of water for an hour.  This is fibre, and it scrapes out your gut.  We did intermittent fasting, meaning we skipped breakfast.  Every day for five weeks lunch was oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon, blueberries, almonds and walnuts, all known to reduce cholesterol.  We used almond milk instead of cow’s milk.  It’s absolutely horrendous for the environment, but hey, it’s fat free.  When we were peckish (which was often) we would snack on nuts and kiwi fruit.  And for dinner we mostly alternated between salmon, pan-fried in little bit of olive oil, which is an unsaturated fat, and soup with lentils, lemon and spinach.  Lentils, again, are rich in fibre, so we were shitting five times a day (and I’ve gotta admit, that part was pretty satisfying).  This sounds like a relatively “healthy” diet right?  But, knowing what I know, I literally felt like I was poisoning my body.  My joints started aching again, my stomach was constantly cramping and bloated, I was gassy as hell and I gained back the inches that I’d lost from around my waist, despite losing a couple of kilos. 

We needed to throw everything at this problem, so that we could pass our cholesterol tests and go back to eating food that’s actually healthy for us, and the environment: pasture-raised meat, eggs, yoghurt, cheese and butter.  So, we levelled up with supplements.  Every day we took milk thistle, plant sterols and stanols, and red yeast rice extract (and, because red yeast rice blocks the body’s own production of CoQ10, which is essential for heart and muscle health, we also had to take CoQ10 supplements).  Like I said, we were in this to win.  Neither one of us wanted to have to go back for another check-up in two months.  So we gave it 100%. 

And it worked.  Here are the results after five weeks of eating a diet which I am passionately, and diametrically, opposed to.  My total cholesterol reduced by an astonishing 60%.  And my “bad” cholesterol, LDL, went down by a pretty fucking crazy 73%. Was I healthier?  No.  But my doctor thought I was.  Was I less at risk of dying of heart disease than I’d been eight weeks before?  Absolutely not, but my doctor was delighted.  He signed our medicals, gave us both a figurative pat on the head and sent us on our way. We went out and had steak for lunch.

I’m no doctor, and this is no medical advice, but cop an eyeful of those number. David’s end results were even better.

Ejo #133 – R.I.P. WhatsApp

When I was 21 years old I was involved in a carjacking.  My boyfriend Allister and I had driven from Melbourne to Sydney in his old poo-brown, stationwagon jalopy so that he could play in a squash tournament.  The car was an absolute piece of shit, with a loosey goosey gearbox and sloppy brakes, but it got us up there in one piece. The first day there, Al was given a lift into the city where the tournament was being held.  The plan was for me to drive to the local station and catch the train into town to meet up with him after his matches. 

When I got to the train station parking lot, it was full so I did a slow lap.  I remember noticing a large Maori guy bending down beside a white vehicle and figured he must have a flat tyre.  Poor guy, I thought, and promptly forgot about it as I slotted into a newly vacated spot a few cars down.  Yay!!  I grabbed my bag and looked up to find the large man I’d seen earlier, standing right outside my window.  I startled in my seat, but didn’t immediately think the worst.  He leaned down, so that his face was level with mine, and started saying something.  I wasn’t loving the direction that this was headed, but I still had no real reason to be worried.  I acted dumb, but he made the signal to wind down my window, so I reluctantly cracked it open. Pointing to his bulging pocket, he very politely explained to me that he had a gun and that he needed my car and could I please get out so that he could take it from me.  Turns out the situation actually was as bad as it had appeared to be. 

You know the cliché about your life flashing before your eyes when you’re about to die?  That did not happen to me.  What did happen was a tsunami surge of adrenaline coursing through my body that focussed my mind into a supercomputer; equations and analyses occurred at the speed of light.  I was calm.  Time slowed. 

What?  Were?  My?  Options? 

I got out of the car.  He just stood there, an inert human mountain of about 6’8”.  I looked up at his face and saw that his eyes were glazed over.  Drugs!  My mind whirred.  I asked him if he was OK?  I guess he was not OK because he reached his arms around me and enveloped me in a big ol’ bear hug.  Yup, right there in the parking lot.  My body pinned and my face smooshed up against his chest, my mind continued to race, assessing the situation, formulating ideas.  I asked him, “Do you need me to drive you somewhere?  I can take you.”  He stepped back and nodded, relief flooding his face.  And thus, our fates were sealed. 

I got back in the car picturing, in my mind’s eye, scenario after gruesome scenario in which I would deliberately crash the car into a tree, or a parked car, or a wall.  I fastened my seatbelt, repeatedly imagining his body flying through the windscreen, at speed.  In real life I watched him moving, extremely slowly, around the front of the car, and just like that a new plan emerged.  I was gonna get the fuck out of there.  I was shaking so hard it took me several attempts to get the key into the ignition, but eventually I started her up, jammed it into reverse and floored it.  I didn’t even check to see if it was clear behind me.  I just wanted to get the hell out of there.  Sadly that wasn’t on the cards for me.  The engine redlined, but the car didn’t move.  My heart, which I’d been gagging on at the back of my throat, suddenly plummeted into my rectum.  I looked up through the windscreen at my would-be carjacker, who had suddenly snapped out of his slumber.  I was freshly in his sights.  I chucked the car into reverse and tried again.  The car squealed like a stuck pig, but went nowhere.  Again.  I tried two more times, stalling the engine in my panic.  The noise in my head was building into a violent crescendo.  What the fuck is happening??  Why isn’t this car moving??  And then… I remembered.  I had to hold the gearstick in place, otherwise it would keep popping out.  FUCK!! 

I started the car a final time, as my new buddy approached the passenger side door and tried to open it.  He looked mad.  I was so insane with fear at this point that I just froze when he put his fist to the glass.  I do remember thinking to myself, there is no way on god’s green earth that he’s going to punch through that window.  He pulled his fist back in slow motion.  I squeezed my eyes shut and screamed a little, and next thing I knew I was being showered in broken safety glass, thousands of sharp little shards of confetti scattered all over me.

I’m pretty sure it was at this point that I went into shock.  The fear quietly slipped away, replaced by numbness, as the great hulk of a man at the passenger side of my boyfriend’s shitty car declined the rather easy option of reaching in and opening the door with his hand, in favour of diving in through the window head first, his entire upper body landing in my lap.  My bare legs were scratched and bloody from all the broken glass, but that was the least of my worries.  He yelled into my crotch, “You shouldn’t have done that!” before awkwardly righting himself, as the gun fell out of his tracksuit pocket into the footwell.  I think he’d forgotten about it, but you can rest assured that I was hyper aware of its existence.  I apologised profusely (as one does in these social situations), and desperately tried to come up with a new plan.   What the hell was I going to do now?  I went with the amoeba-brain option of pretending that we were cool and that I was still happy to Uber him to wherever the hell he wanted to go and that it had all just been a big misunderstanding.  And he seemed OK with that. 

“Just drive”, he said. 

I was, as I mentioned earlier, a bit numb by now.  I don’t know why, but I continued to allow the gearstick to pop out of place, and I continued to keep stalling the engine.  The whole while screaming I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I could sense that he was starting to get a bit edgy, but he was also definitely still under the influence of something soporific, and I thought to myself (in yet another brilliant round of decision making), that I could take advantage of that, so I just kept screaming and popping, screaming and stalling.  And in that space, a new plan blossomed.  I would make a run for it.  My reactions were heightened, his were dulled.  It would work. 

I waited for the right moment, and in a beautifully choreographed series of movements, I unlocked and opened my car door, unclicked my seatbelt, pulled the keys out of the ignition and fucking legged it!!!!!  In my panic, I ran straight up to the first car waiting for a spot in the parking lot, jumped in and screamed, “DRIVE, PLEASE!!!”.  We took off and I saw my wannabe carjacker still sitting in Allister’s passenger side seat, bereft.  His eyes were sad, his mouth agape.  Poor motherfucker was having a pretty bad day, and I had just betrayed him for the second time.  As we rounded the corner, my relief was tempered by the dawning realisation that I had just escaped one grisly situation only to end up in a strange man’s car, in an unfamiliar city.  But my hero was a lovely guy and we drove a big block before returning to the scene of the crime.  I was thrilled to see the flashing blue lights of a police car in attendance, and no sign of my assailant. I profusely thanked my rescuer and made my way back to the car. 

Long story short: the cops took my statement and, as they dropped me off back at the hotel, Constable Catherine turned around and said to me, “You’re a very lucky girl.  You really should have just given him the car”.

Back in our hotel room I drew a bath and lay in the shallow tub, in the dark, for a long time. Just processing what had happened.  Why hadn’t I given him the car?  Why didn’t I just hand over the keys and walk away?  The only answer I’ve ever been able to come up with is that the car wasn’t mine to give, and that it wasn’t his to take.  Now, please don’t think I’m suggesting that anyone else ever do anything as stupid as risk their life for property.  What I did was stupendously dumb.  Still, some part of me feels almost righteous that I had the balls to stand up to someone and say, no, you can not have my shit. 

So, let’s talk about WhatsApp.  If a thug came up to you on the street with a gun and demanded that you unlock your phone and give it to him, I’m sure you would.  No-brainer, it’s just a phone, right?  Not worth dying over.  What if a clean-cut guy, wearing a blue Facebook uniform, woke you up in your bed in the middle of the night, asking to please have access to your phone.  Just so that he could have a quick squizz at your contacts and their home addresses, phone numbers and emails.  Oh, and perhaps he’d also swipe through all your photos.  Maybe even check out those sexy selfies you took that one time (hey, no judgement from me).  He might feel like having a look at your browsing and purchase history.  Would you be cool with that?  What if he promised that he wouldn’t go anywhere near any of your WhatsApp chats, locations or photos.  Pinky swear.  Would that sweeten the deal? 

I have a feeling that none of that would be cool with you and that you would probably decline such a request.  Right?  Some stranger, in your home, looking through your private shit?  Uh huh, no thanks.  But now consider what happens if you continue to use WhatsApp after the 8th February.  A behemoth, rapacious, faceless corporation, already worth half a trillion dollars, will data-rape your mobile phone, 24/7, in every single orifice.  If you wouldn’t hand your unlocked phone over to a stranger, then why would you let Facebook do the exact same thing?  We all need to keep in mind that Facebook is not our friend.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a huge fan of WhatsApp for a long time.  It’s super secure, there are no ads and it’s free.  What’s not to love.  Yes, Facebook acquired the app in 2014 but as far as I could tell, the dumbasses hadn’t figured out how to cash in on it.  And I was loving that, coz… fuck Facebook.  Late last year, a friend in a WhatsApp group I’m part of blew my mind with this statistic: ?Sixty five billion WhatsApp messages are sent every single day.  My response?

My question was answered less than a month later when WhatsApp announced an update to their terms and conditions.  They immediately faced a huge backlash from users, who interpreted the change as meaning that Facebook would now be able to access WhatsApp messages, photos, locations and contacts.  The company issued an FAQ on their website, assuring people that wasn’t the case. 

All this refers to content within WhatsApp – what about the stuff they want to get their dirty hands on, outside of that app? No mention.

Me?  I’m still bailing.  My problem with WhatsApp’s new terms was never that Facebook might be able to access my WhatsApp messages.  These messages are end-to-end encrypted which means they are virtually unhackable.  Nope, WhatsApp’s security is not under scrutiny here; but their privacy most definitely is.  My concern is all the other data on my phone that they want to access and share with Facebook and other apps across their platform.  And I simply do not want them all up in my shit.  At all.  Previously, I was able to opt out of their data-perving.  But, unless you’re in the EU, from the 8th February 2021, it’s either opt-in or be locked out.  And I don’t really respond well to that kind of ultimatum.  Also, you know what else?  There are other options out there.  WhatsApp was great, I really enjoyed using it.  I was a fucking cheerleader for the app, over the years building up a really large network of people that I communicate with regularly through it.  But bitch, you are not the only ho on the street. 

The two main contenders are Signal and Telegram, and both have experienced huge surges in new subscribers since WhatsApp made their announcement.  Which one is better?  I’m Team Signal all the way, and I’ll tell you why.  Of the two, Signal is run as a non-profit, meaning it exists thanks to donations made by users.  I like this a lot because it means that, unlike Facebook or Telegram, they aren’t driven by dollars (and, if you want to donate, you can do so here).  Signal is also the most secure of the three messenger services, having invented the end-to-end encryption protocol that WhatsApp is founded upon.  Telegram doesn’t even default to encrypted messaging.  You have to opt-in to it for each chat.  It also doesn’t allow for encrypted group chats, so overall it’s far less secure.  Signal is also the most private of the three apps, meaning they store absolutely none of your user data.  ZERO!  There are other ways in which Signal prioritises its users’ privacy, including hiding your online presence (so that people can’t see when you’re using the app), not supporting location sharing, inbuilt app-locker, self-destructing messaging and facial pixelation to protect identities.  Signal, Signal, Signal, oi, oi, oi. 

“Data linked to you” means data linked to your actual, personal identity. Where privacy is concerned, Signal wins, hands down. Charts published courtesy of Apple.

Sure, it’s been a monster pain in my ass going through almost all my contacts to let them know that I’ve switched over to Signal.  But I did it, because I need to keep in touch with my family and friends.  I live away from my home, in a country in which it hasn’t been really easy for me to find new friendships.  After deleting Facebook, I relied exclusively on WhatsApp to keep me connected.  And in a way, I feel like that was one of the reasons they delayed their trademark chicanery.  The more entrenched WhatsApp became, the more reliant people became on it to communicate, the harder we would find it to leave when Facebook did decide to let themselves in the backdoor (did someone say 65 billion messages a day??).  And I’ve seen that with a few of my contacts just throwing up their hands and saying that it’s too hard for them to switch over.  They feel like they have no choice.  And that makes me so sad for them. For us all. Are we really so complacent about our own personal information (and the information of our contacts) being bought and sold that we just accept it, because it’s more convenient?  Are we really happy to be held hostage, because downloading a new app feels like too much of a hassle?  It would appear so. 

I am sick to death of Facebook trying to get their dirty, creepy, sticky fingers into everything we do.  Their manically capitalistic desire for growth means that FB will never be happy with the amount of information it can scrape from your device, or from your life.  It will always want more. So even if you are happy to allow them the access they currently seek, do you really think that’s where they’ll stop?  When have they ever stopped before?  They’ve only ever sidestepped, backpedalled and hustled around legal obstacles.  Of course they have issued apologies for overstepping – but only when they’ve been caught.  Time and again, they’ve demonstrated that they simply cannot be trusted.  Why would you start trusting them now?  Especially knowing that Facebook ultimately aspires to one day actually read our goddamn minds (all the better to target advertisements for our purchasing convenience, no doubt).  Don’t believe me?  Read all about it here and here.  That’s not terrifying AT ALL!!  And you wonder why I’m freaking out over a tiny little change in terms and conditions. 

At the end of the day, after reading all this, you still might think I’m over-reacting.  C’mon Chryss, it’s just a little bit of info from your phone.  Maybe.  But that feisty young woman who fought a drugged-up carjacker trying to steal her car 29 years ago? She’s still inside of me. Only now, she’s fighting an evil data-jacker trying to steal her personal information. Not on my watch.