Dry January

I live a dry life. I stopped drinking alcohol a few years ago (for many reasons that I’ll go into a bit later), so I suppose it intrigues me why people resolve to have thirty-one alcohol-free days. I should clarify a couple of points before I go any further. My decision to go teetotal was entirely my own. (As was my decision to become a vegetarian when I was a teenager). Many people assume that I changed these aspects of my lifestyle for religious reasons. At the time I certainly didn’t, although I can now see why Sikhism advocates sobriety.

I dislike it when people say that I’m a “good girl” for not drinking – because one would conclude from that statement that I would be a “bad girl” if I did drink – and that’s not fair. When I was growing up in my British-Asian bubble, drinking was frowned upon and girls were certainly not allowed to be seen holding an alcoholic beverage; to the extent that at weddings, the bar would be an exclusively male area. I’m not exaggerating when I say that a rush of whispers would spread like wildfire amongst the aunties (aka random relations with no significant ties to your family), if a female was to approach and order a drink. Some of these archaic sentiments have unfortunately persisted, and many young people would still be scared to drink at a family function, lest they be unkindly judged by more vocal elders.

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On the flip side, I’ve also been told by people my age that I’m boring for not drinking – which makes me wonder if I’ve committed myself to a no-win way of life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with drinking and I would certainly never judge anyone for choosing to drink, as I made the choice to drink once upon a time too. I had a great time then and I have a great time now. I suppose I just want to explain why I don’t drink alcohol and why I like being sober, in the hope that it might stop you from dreading nights where sobriety is a necessity (e.g. designated driver) or a choice (e.g. dry January).

I’ve seen a few different approaches to dry January. Some people give up as soon as a worthy opportunity to drink presents itself – and that doesn’t really bother me because I also happen to object quite strongly to “New Year’s resolutions”.* What irritates me is when people choose to go into hibernation in order to achieve a dry January. By avoiding social situations altogether, there’s no risk of succumbing to temptation and thus the thirty-one-day challenge has been conquered. But has it really? Have you succeeded in anything, if you’ve not met up with friends/family/colleagues and had a laugh. At most, all you’ve achieved is sitting at home on Friday nights bored out of your mind, affirming the belief that being sober is rubbish. You’re also not particularly testing your resolve. You’ve said no to attending a social event, but the real test comes when you politely decline a drink.

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There are obvious reasons for not drinking, so I’ll summarise those in brief clichés because I’m sure you remember them from PSHE in Year 9:

  • It’s bad for your health – “no s***, Sherlock”. We all do lots of things that are bad for our health, so drinking just seems like another guilty pleasure. Melting into the sofa is also bad for us; but that doesn’t stop anyone from bingeing on Netflix.
  • Drink driving is dangerous – life is valuable and taxis are expensive.
  • Beer bellies are real – as are the fatty, disease-ridden livers that are prevalent in the > 50 years, Sikh/Punjabi male population. Research the calories in a pint of Guinness and despair.
  • It’s bad for your bank balance – fairly self-explanatory.
  • It impairs your judgement – so you enter a vicious cycle of continuing the self-destructive, alcohol-fuelled behaviour… and might eventually wake up next to someone you don’t remember meeting (hello herpes) with credit card receipts for drinks you don’t remember ordering (farewell financial security).

An important part of life is making mistakes and learning from them, but I feel like when alcohol is involved, the same mistakes can be made time-and-time again. My sarcastic tone in the bullet points above does not intend to undermine their validity. There’s an uncomfortable truth to each statement – but as a society, we’ve become desensitised to the impact that alcohol can have on our wellbeing. Knowing that alcohol is expensive and unhealthy doesn’t deter us from drinking, or make abstinence any more attractive. Some of the reasons I stopped drinking do fall under the above categories, however I’ve mostly been guided by personal realisations.

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What made it easy, was understanding that alcohol in no way guarantees that you’ll have fun. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you drink. You’ll have good nights and bad nights when you’re sober. Having a drink does not correlate with having a good night; and being sober does not correlate with having a bad one. Therefore, if you’re looking forward to a night out, you’re likely to have a good night irrespective of your alcohol intake. The people, atmosphere and music matter much more. There’s also the fact that people chat a lot of s*** when they’re drunk, and if you’re drunk you’re more likely to believe it. That’s fine sometimes – but it can also form fragile foundations for friendships. In my first year of uni, I went out more than the average fresher and met a lot of people. We were best friends on a night out but had very little to say to each other in the sober light of day. Initially, this wasn’t an issue, yet as the year went on, I became less certain of who my friends were; as most people felt like acquaintances.

Fortunately during this existential time, I got to know some of my closest friends at Bollywood dance rehearsals. We had met each other on nights out, but we bonded at sober practices… and I’ve since had a revelation that alcohol never contributed in any substantial way to the experiences or relationships for which I’m most grateful. Alcohol is very superficial, which is perfect when you’re in the company of people you know well, because it adds a layer of fun to what is already a very deep and wholesome thing. (This also taught me that very few things – least of all alcohol – compare to the feeling I get when I dance; it brings me immeasurable happiness, enjoyment and fulfilment. Lame but true.)

Yes, Dutch courage is useful when you’re faced with a room of people you don’t know, but it’ll also hinder your BS-filter. I was recently at a Christmas party where I didn’t know anyone, and I managed to make conversation with drunk and sober people alike for several hours. This isn’t something I’ve always been able to do and at times I felt quite awkward. Overall however, I had a wonderful night – firstly because I wasn’t doubting my opinions of people and secondly because I realised the next day, that I have definitely been happier since I stopped drinking.

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I don’t worry about drunken behaviour because it doesn’t exist. I’ve become a more confident person. I can instantly tell whether I’m likely to get on with someone, unlike my tipsy self who naïvely loved everyone. Talking to drunk people is entertaining. It’s nice to maintain a degree of control, which can be quickly lost after one unwise round of shots. My immune system is stronger. I’m more productive as I don’t lose a day to dehydration/headaches. My skin is healthier. I can get wonderful calories from Nutella without guilt, as I’m not getting empty calories from vodka with a hangover. Etc.

This doesn’t mean I’ll never drink again, as I’m fully aware that sharing a bottle of wine can be a simple but perfect way to spend your evening when you’re in good company. For now however, I’m more than content drinking Shloer and I hope that you’ll give it an open-minded go too.

 

* The start of a new year seems to be an arbitrary and weak source of motivation for making significant changes to your daily habits, so why set yourself up to fail.

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The Abortion Act: Fundamentally Anti-Feminist?

Abortion has long been a contentious subject that has divided opinions – in both Parliament and the general public – into two conflicting camps, with each placing greater emphasis on one of two interrelated issues: the foetus’s moral status and a pregnant woman’s autonomy. Whilst the UK is deemed to be reasonably progressive in its attitudes towards abortion, the Abortion Act 1967 does not in fact grant women the right to terminate a pregnancy – it is technically at the discretion of registered medical professionals alone. Although this is largely a better set-up than that recently demonstrated in Paraguay – where a ten-year-old was denied the right to end a pregnancy forced upon her by her sexually abusive stepfather – it is fast-becoming obsolete in a society, which has shunned paternalism from the doctor-patient relationship.

In R v Bourne (the bedrock of modern abortion legislation), a surgeon was acquitted of the criminal offence of ‘intending to procure a miscarriage’. He was justified in assisting a fourteen-year-old victim of rape, as the judge observed that the young girl would be spared of ‘great mental anguish’ by terminating the pregnancy. This unprecedented ruling provided a defence, under which abortions could be carried out lawfully: for the greater good of preserving a woman’s mental health.

It would be incorrect however to assume that the founding spirit of the Abortion Act 1967 was to empower women in asserting their reproductive rights. Following R v Bourne from 1939, doctors were given a loophole in common law that partially decriminalised abortion, however the extent to which a doctor perceived an unwanted pregnancy to threaten a woman’s mental health varied greatly. The fees for ‘legal’ abortions were consequently unaffordable to most, as there was still a perceptible risk that doctors may face criminal charges, and thus access to safe abortions was restricted.

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The lack of accessibility to abortions resulted in a dangerous rise in the number of ‘backstreet abortions’. David Steel, who first introduced the Abortion Act 1967 as a Private Members’ Bill, has since admitted that the introduction of the legislation was motivated by ‘revulsion at the damage caused by criminal and self-induced abortion and the hypocrisy of available subterfuge abortion on payment’. This was confirmed by the Lord Chief Justice in R v Scrimaglia, where he stated that the purpose of the Abortion Act 1967 was to ‘get rid of the back-street insanitary operations’ and reduce the associated mortality rates, which placed a heavy burden on the young NHS.

The 1967 Act was further based on two assumptions, that doctors: (1) will act in the best interests of their patients and (2) are most able to determine a woman’s best interests. Harold Shipman infamously succeeded in disproving the former assumption, whilst the latter has been criticised by ‘pro-choice’ advocates for its intrinsic paternalism and indeed, patronisation. In 1967, both Parliament and the medical profession were dominated by the male species, and thus the Abortion Act was conceived on archaic social constructs of women and doctors. Women were depicted as irrational, selfish or desperate; whereas doctors were responsible figureheads of society – i.e. everything a woman was not.

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Thus the purpose of the 1967 Act is arguably to provide ‘registered medical professionals’ with lawful grounds to perform abortions, if they are shown to form an opinion ‘in good faith’ that an abortion meets the set requirements. Interestingly, it is difficult to prove instances in which a doctor has not acted ‘in good faith’, as there has only been one successful prosecution under these charges since the Act’s introduction. There are however dubiously vague grounds on which an abortion may be carried out, as more specific definitions were rejected by medical professional bodies in the 1960s. The wording of the statute would also suggest that even if the grounds for abortion do not exist in reality, the abortion remains legal if the doctors honestly believed that the grounds had been satisfied. This leaves the legality decidedly at the doctors’ discretion – creating ‘medical control of abortion’.

Female autonomy has thus been trivialised to a strong degree in both statutory and common law. Although there are concerns that misinterpretations of autonomy have created a healthcare system in which ‘the doctor must deliver what the consumer-patient demands’; it has long been accepted that the negative freedom to refuse treatment, as entitled by the principle of autonomy, cannot be translated into a positive freedom to demand certain interventions (despite the wishes of the patient). This was echoed in the case of R v Sarah Louise Catt, in which a judge stated that it was wrong to assume that the provisions of the 1967 Act made abortion ‘available essentially on demand prior to twenty-four weeks with the approval of a registered medical practitioner’.

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I have failed rather spectacularly in hiding my distaste towards the Abortion Act’s ethos. Not only does current legislation neglect the changing role of a doctor in medical practice but it fails to acknowledge the medical advances, and subsequent changes to fetal viability, that have occurred since the Abortion Act 1967 and Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 were each introduced. Reform is long overdue; whilst there is no harm in continuing to preserve the integrity of doctors, a woman’s right to self-determination is now equally deserving of legal validation.

This post was based on a law reform proposal I wrote this summer. If you’re interested in reading about the changes I would implement, my justifications for these changes and/or have time to read a 5000 word essay, feel free to get in touch!

The Quarter-Life Crisis

If you’re 20-something years old and consider yourself to be on the verge of an existential crisis, I can assure you you’re not alone. In the last few months, I have had identical conversations with entirely different people and, having ruled out recurrent déjà vu, I have reached the conclusion that the season of self-neglect is well underway. This blog is an amalgamation of advice I seem to be recycling, inspired by a scenario recounted by the fictional and brilliant Leo McGarry:

This guy’s walking down a street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can’t get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up, “Hey you, can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts up “Father, I’m down in this hole, can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey Joe, it’s me, can you help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

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This time last year I was in the thick of my exam-induced meltdown. Those that have read my previous blogs or were unfortunate enough to be in my presence during May/June of last year, will know that I’m referring to the self-inflicted torture that was Intermediates revision (Intermediates, by the way, are very scary exams). My appetite was non-existent, sleep was a fond but distant memory and my studying habits became obsessive. I was overwhelmed by an irrational yet unwavering fear of failure that had become so engrained that I was functioning as merely a fragment of my former self. This perhaps sounds exaggerated but I was, in essence, a miserable robot – incapable of self-belief and entirely dependent on the confidence of others that I would get through these exams. This was anxiety in its purest form but even though I had textbook symptoms and a certain degree of insight, I did absolutely nothing to help myself.

I am now far from the person I was a year ago. Having been through January and summer modules with only a few minor blips, the obvious importance of perspective has finally become clear to me. I started thinking about this blog over a month ago, when everything seemed to be going well and I was, for the most part, achieving goals that I had set myself. Since then, my blissful existence has wavered and my confidence in both friends and family has been tested for several reasons beyond my control. The former Harleen may have allowed this to affect her own self-confidence but I haven’t imploded (yet), for which I can only thank this recent revelation.

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When we are in the midst of a stressful or unfortunate event, it is difficult to remove yourself from the situation or consider it with hindsight. Realistically however, what troubles you now, in a year’s time may be something you feel embarrassed to have given so much consideration. And here lies my first piece of practical advice: take the advice you would give a friend in similar circumstances. If that fails you, take comfort in the fact that life has proven repeatedly that everything truly does happen for a reason. Without negative experiences we would never learn to appreciate the happiness that we too easily take for granted and indeed, there is nothing to learn from a perfect life.

This leads onto my second concern, which is that far too many young people expect to have everything worked out by their early twenties. We are, at this point, only a quarter of the way through our life expectancy and will have spent a sizeable proportion of this time playing in mud or with fairies.

As a university graduate, you are – for the first time in your life – responsible for yourself. Your days are no longer determined by government-approved curriculums, assigned holidays or commitments of any sort. Yet limitless freedom can be overwhelming and comfort is often found in structure, so many graduates begin forming a life based on what they think is expected of them. They pursue further education because they are told that it’s what’s best, or they look for a graduate job because they are told that they should.

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I see the merits of both but I have also seen my friends struggle to meet the standards they set for themselves and consequently suffer. Without grades and exam results to provide markers of progress, people become their own harshest critics – with a frequent tendency to compare themselves to others – to their own detriment. Ambition is healthy and I firmly believe that we should always aspire to be better versions of ourselves, but not if failure to acquire these ideals results in self-punishment.

Yes, you are accountable for yourself and yes, it is terrifying. In a few years however, you’ll also be responsible to a partner and with time, perhaps even to tiny humans who will rely on you for everything. We spend the rest of our lives meeting obligations to other people and making sacrifices and compromises to keep others carefree. You have time for yourself now, so why not be self-indulgent? The only responsibility you should have is for your own well-being, as that is one thing you should never have to find in others. If your “pursuit of happiness” involves working for six months at £7/hour to fund a trip around South America where you “find yourself”, so be it – you might even avoid another crisis twenty years down the line.

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2014: My “Year in Review”

Every other post on my Facebook News Feed during the last week has been a ‘Year in Review’: a random assortment of pictures with the statement, “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” Although I was tempted to share mine, I soon realised that a few photos (of me looking markedly more attractive than I do on a daily basis) barely broke the surface of what 2014 has meant to me. My closest friends and family in particular will testify that I have changed more over the last twelve months than anyone could have anticipated, so here are a few of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:

  • Bhangra is not just a dance – I’m starting with this because virtually all the photos that Facebook considered worthy enough to summarise my year were Bhangra-related. When your captain or choreographer tells you that in order to do a routine justice, you need to be able to sprint for eight minutes… they’re not kidding. Although I look back on my first performance with disappointment for not pushing myself more, I do not for a moment regret any of the time I spent with the beautiful girls on our university team. Having joined a team in London later this year, I quickly learnt that the sense of ‘family’ I felt during the run up to my first competition wasn’t exclusive to our team in Southampton. In just a few short months I’ve danced better, laughed harder and received more support than I could have predicted – because the tears, sweat and pain that characterise a Bhangra journey also happen to forge stronger relationships between people than one might possibly expect.

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  • My sewing machine gives me more joy than Oceana – 2014 was the year that I outgrew nights out. Whilst I will always be up for dancing like a fool with my favourite people until 4 a.m., I’ve realised that chit-chat with borderline strangers who I’ll likely never see again just isn’t my cup of tea. As a fresher I would be out on most days, talking to everyone and fully enjoying the freedom university gave me. I would often be complimented for ‘knowing everyone’ but as a fourth year, I’ve only stayed in touch with a tiny fraction of the people I once spoke to regularly. In my own experience, clubbing brings new people together but in a very superficial way. These days I would rather sing-along (out of tune and as loud as my lungs will permit) to Disney’s Greatest Hits in someone’s living room, than pretend to understand House music in a dress that doesn’t sanction any kind of movement.

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  • Sometimes you have no choice but to cut people out – this has probably been my most selfish year. I have always been a people pleaser, prioritising someone else’s happiness over my own and obsessing far too much over what people think of me. I have learnt however that if you show a person kindness but they cannot reciprocate the effort when you need it, they aren’t worthy of your time. If they actively hurt you but lack the courage to apologise, they aren’t worthy of anyone’s time. I often used to blame myself for the misconduct of others but now I appreciate that some friendships do sour and it is occasionally better not to attempt fixing something beyond repair.
  • There is no shortcut for hard work – throughout my degree, I put in minimal effort and gained average results in return. This year, I worked myself to the bone and my exam results reflected it. Although I went too far and alienated myself from both my friends and family for two months, I know now that natural ability and talent are simply a starting point. The only way of guaranteeing success in anything is by devoting sufficient time and effort to an individual goal, whether it be your studies or a sport.

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  • Family is the only constant in life – I think this has been the biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year. I often used to focus on the faults of different members of my family and I definitely took people for granted. In difficult times however there is no greater comfort than a hug from your mum, regardless of how old you are. Drifting from friends is a natural part of growing up and bears no reflection on either of your personalities. Indeed, people often say that the best friends in life are those with whom you can pick up from where you last left things – regardless of how much time has passed. In this sense, my family have been the best friends I will ever have. I might not speak to my aunt/brother/cousin for a week or two but I’ll be able to ask them for advice without any need for formality and they’ll give me an honest and valid response at a moment’s notice.

As a self-confessed master of procrastination, I shall end this post here and attempt to get back to my work. I’ve only really touched on the little path of self-discovery that I unknowingly paved for myself as 2014 progressed. Having shared a few of the details however, I can at least confidently declare that it really has been a great year and I would like to thank you all for being part of it.

Mean Girls (& Guys)

Hollywood’s portrayal of high school convinces us to push through the drama, bitch fights and angst that afflict teenagers because matriculation promises us sunshine, rainbows and maturity. We are led to believe that with the end of our secondary education, we will be liberated from the less glamorous aspects of adolescence we’ve all had to endure. As I’ve grown older however, I’m slowly beginning to realise that we never really graduate from bitchiness. This world is plagued by pests and parasites who feed off the happiness of others and jealousy is a beast that can consume even the kindliest of people.

On several occasions this week, I’ve listened to friends and family discuss events where pettiness and immaturity have caused more hurt than the perpetrator could have possibly envisaged. Insecurity is burden that everyone deals with; whether it relates to physical appearance, confidence in relationships or belief in one’s own ability. Part of growing up is confronting the issues that breed insecurity and in overcoming them, you develop an intrinsic confidence that paves the way for maturity. I was often reassured as a teenager that many of the difficulties I faced, which often arose from cliquey behaviour, were perfectly normal. These problems would fade with time and eventually the Regina Georges of the world would disperse.

Film Title: Mean Girls.

To an extent, this was correct. I was blissfully content in my final year of school. Having spent seven years with the same year group, we collectively exhausted all means of drama and with the knowledge that we would soon be replacing our perfect little Buckinghamshire bubbles with the big wide world, we made the most of each other’s company and even now, I look back on those times with nothing but nostalgia and fondness. It has occurred to me since however, that it was only truly when we realised how lucky we were and how quickly this would pass, that we put juvenile theatrics aside in favour of wishing well for each other. It seems as though an absence of this time pressure stops people from embodying positivity and instead, they digress into the same trivialities that we would rather leave behind. The darkest characteristics of human nature (jealousy, unhealthy competition, spite…) become woefully apparent and as opposed to focusing energy on their own well-being, people drift into the affairs of others and create trouble unnecessarily.

This holds true throughout our lives. The most fearsome of personalities seem to subside with age, as the greatest form of time pressure presents itself. Although the eldest generation cannot deny an interest in the latest gossip, they seem to have a wider appreciation of what is worth discussion and what is insignificant, whilst younger generations may be engrossed by it all. Eleanor Roosevelt quite rightly said, “great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Many young minds are, in this sense, small minds. We will often take simple situations, blow them out of proportion and then assign blame to those involved rather than taking a step back and looking on with even an ounce of perspective. We are also drawn to other people with similar interests and dislikes and bitching is often used as a conversation starter. I know I am guilty of discussing individuals when I shouldn’t have but I now wonder how mortified I would be if I knew that a mutual dislike of me was bringing two people closer together.

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I realise I’m being rather vague. Details may identify individuals, which isn’t what I want, and whilst my blogs are usually commentaries on things I’ve observed, I realise this is turning into a bit of a rant. Of everyone I know, there are only two individuals who have made me this cynical – but the past few years have shown me that the actions or words of just one person can destroy the trust, security and confidence of another with far too much ease. What you think you say in confidence can quickly spread (as many of us have learnt the hard way) but I find a lot of comfort in the concept of karma and a staunch belief that what goes around, comes around.

This blog hasn’t amounted to anything really and there isn’t a particular conclusion to be drawn, so instead I’ll leave you with (1) a plea to inject more thought into any words and actions that relate to others and (2) the cleverness of someone infinitely wiser than any of us:

“If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl, The Twits.

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How Good Are Your Sperm?

I learnt a fair few life lessons during my visit to India. Hot water is a luxury (most of my morning showers could fulfil ice bucket challenge requirements), you should never start watching a three-hour Bollywood film on the TV as a power-cut is guaranteed ten minutes before the end and a deck of cards will provide universal entertainment for days on end. Some of the most interesting advice I’ve picked up however was during a clinical placement with a leading IVF specialist and, incidentally, applies worldwide. Both citywide and rural studies have shown that changing lifestyles have been detrimental to public health and sperm counts specifically are suffering as a consequence. Male infertility is becoming an issue of increasing concern in the Punjab – so why is it that in an overwhelmingly testosterone-driven state, this fundamental measure of virility is being neglected? Stereotypical punjabi men rarely shy away from opportunities to demonstrate their superior masculinity and in this agricultural province, it may often be the number of whiskey bottles you devour or the kabaddi tournaments to your name that will help you garner respect.

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For women, infertility is usually a mechanical problem that can’t be helped. Although lifestyle factors (such as promiscuity, smoking and extremities of BMI) may significantly impair a women’s ability to reproduce, the most common causes are diseases of relatively unknown origins, with endometriosis and uterine fibroids being common examples. Increasing age also severely limits a female’s reproductive capacity as women are born with a finite store of eggs, which is depleted with each menstrual cycle, and eventually concludes with the menopause. Men however could theoretically procreate from the onset of puberty until their death as there are no such restrictions on the male reproductive organs. Whilst rarer mechanical causes exist (undescended/absent reproductive organs, hormone imbalances), male infertility can essentially be considered as a dysfunction of one of two processes: sperm production and sperm delivery. The following factors (many obvious and some unexpected) may interrupt either of these processes temporarily or permanently:

  • Alcohol – drinking within the recommended limits of 3-4 units per day is unlikely to affect a man’s fertility. Drinking in excess however increases your risk of diabetes and diseases which effect your blood supply, both of which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity – again, a BMI of greater than 29 predisposes men to an array of diseases, many of which may lead to hormonal imbalances and, yes, erectile dysfunction.
  • Smoking – cigarette smoke places your body’s cells under oxidative stress (including those of your reproductive system) which, in other words, increases the risk of cell death due to oxygen starvation. Other mechanisms also reduce the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is responsible for dilating your blood vessels… including those which men hold most dear.
  • Unprotected sex – many STIs (chlamydia and gonorrhoea being the main culprits) are responsible for infertility in both sexes and as they can often be symptomless, lasting damage may occur long before you seek treatment.
  • Tight clothes – those sick skinny jeans in Topman may be sicker than you think and should perhaps carry a “genital-crushing” health advisory warning.
  • Poor diet – the unhealthy fats in fast food clog your arteries through a process called atherosclerosis and high sugar levels contribute to a risk of diabetes – both of which can reduce the blood flow to your reproductive organs, leading to reduced sperm production and more erectile dysfunction. Fruits and vegetables on the other hand are rich in antioxidants which stop cells from dying prematurely.
  • Mobile phones – a recent study carried out at the University of Exeter suggested that the electromagnetic radiation produced by mobile phones kept in trouser pockets can impair sperm production, thus reducing sperm counts by as much as 8%.
  • Hot water – sperm develop optimally in a cool environment, hence why a man’s testicles are situated outside his body. Too much time in hot baths, jacuzzis and hot tubs may relax sperm production as well as your muscles, leading to reduced fertility.

skinny-jeans-on-men1 Thankfully, breakthroughs during the last few decades have allowed miracles to occur on a daily basis; embryos are conceived for couples who would have once been told they had little hope of birthing their own child. As many as one in seven couples seek advice or treatment for infertility but despite this, it remains a sensitive topic that can be difficult to broach for either sex. Indeed, in 100 cases: 30 would be due to problems with the father, 30 due to problems with the mother, 27 due to problems in both parents and the remaining 13 cases would be ‘unexplained’. It is fair to say therefore that infertility is a reasonably common problem for both genders. With an expanding circle of clinicians taking the view that lifestyle plays a significant role in fertility, perhaps a fresh approach to infertility therapy is needed. invitro2 Prevention is undoubtedly the best remedy for any medical problem, hence the billions of pounds that are invested annually into research for vaccinations and public health campaigns. If this same concept was applied to educate the public on how to preserve fertility, the quantity of couples approaching their GP for fertility advice could slowly decrease and fewer members of the public would be subject to the financial and psychological burdens contiguous with infertility.

Although this is ideal in principle, too often we neglect our own bodies and discard own health in favour of the easier, gluttonous option. We make ourselves unnecessarily vulnerable to a host of ailments which, with a little self-motivation, could be entirely avoided. What is the point in government initiatives if no one pays attention? The slogans “use a condom”, “smoking kills” and “drink in moderation” have been plastered across schools, hospitals and social media – yet STIs continue to rise, smokers still go through a pack-a-day and alcoholics find themselves in emergency rooms unable to recall how they got there.

The next time you receive advice for your health or come across an NHS poster, take thirty seconds of your day to pay attention. You will soon realise that healthcare professionals understand that abstaining from guilty pleasures is usually unachievable and will only ever recommend it if they consider it to be worthwhile. The tools necessary to preserve every aspect of your health are widely available. Instead of ignoring them, utilise them and remember that by taking care of yourself today, you have taken care of your future self and perhaps avoided the loneliness of a doctor’s waiting room years down the line.

Great Expectations

It’s hardly a secret that some Asian parents have a notorious reputation for expecting a great deal of their children; it is a feature of Eastern parenting been parodied, persecuted and sometimes even praised. A catalogue of acceptable careers as devised by generations of Asian parents who ‘definitely know better than you’ includes:

  • Medicine / Dentistry / Pharmacy
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Economics / Business / Maths / Accounting

The list for many Asian parents ends here. Telling your father that you wish to study music or the arts is often simply not an option and many children are indoctrinated with the idea that pursuing science or vocational degrees is the only guarantee of success. Languages are particularly controversial; I imagine that expressing a desire to study French or Spanish at university would have quickly been rejected with the reasoning that I could learn Punjabi free. Although many parents have adopted a more liberal approach and instead encourage their children to define their career paths by what they enjoy, in my personal experience only a rare and lucky minority can claim to have parents that fall into the latter category.

As parents pray that their children will forge careers in high-paying and highly-competitive fields, it leaves the younger generation under a great deal of pressure. As a child I never dreamt of being a ballerina or an astronaut (albeit for a while I was utterly resolute that I would one day be a dolphin); they were far-fetched careers without tangible benefits. Instead I focused on my literacy, numeracy and colouring in homework (always endeavouring to stay strictly within the lines) because I had been advised time and time again by everyone older than me that doing well in school was the only thing that would get me far in life.

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There’s no point denying there’s a certain credibility to this fact but I wonder how beneficial it is to give young children constant reminders of their need to excel in their education, particularly as many parents forget that straight A*s aren’t achievable by everyone, despite their best efforts. A well known joke of the child that rushes home to tell their parents that they got 97% in an exam, only to be asked what happened to the other 3% rings too true.  I, like many others, genuinely dreaded marks less than 90% and I almost pity the teachers that had to mark my work, as the high expectations I had of myself were clearly evident.

We all know how vulnerable, impressionable and susceptible to environmental stress children are but when it comes to education, this all seems to be disregarded. Government assessments now start from the delicate of age of seven and a wonderful letter penned by a primary school headteacher outlines just how little these tests tell us. Nevertheless the stage at which children discover stress seems to decrease with each generation. The highest priorities still lie with studies of course, hence the thousands of pounds many parents now invest into their three-year-old’s schooling but if acing exams isn’t enough, children are now expected to take up a musical instrument, play a county-level sport and have a burgeoning group of friends. Many of my youngest cousins seem to have busier schedules than me and while there are very real concerns of how much time some groups of children spend in front of the television, I worry more about the children who don’t even have time for television in between their extracurricular activities and supplementary tuition.

The pressure originates from our families and the competitive culture that made the four-thousand mile journey from sub-continental Asia with our ancestors. Cars, big houses and jewellery count for a lot but the absolute measure of success lies with how well you raise your children. Eventually parental pressure evolves into a pressure we place on ourselves. No one told me to revise for sixteen hours a day in the month before my last set of exams and indeed, my parents actively discouraged it as it became clearer that my health was suffering as consequence. Yet the need to do well has become so ingrained that I was willing to sacrifice basic requirements such as sleep and food and I found myself in a self-imposed exile from fun.

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These pressures are by no means confined to members of Asian minorities and without providing spoilers, Dead Poets Society explores these issues and demonstrates that there is much more to life beyond a classroom. It also depicts Neil – the film’s alternate protagonist – who is unable to bear his father’s hopes for his prospective career in medicine, when his enjoyment and talents lie in theatre. Society expects to hear and frowns upon stories of failed actors and musicians but we turn a blind eye and even offer sympathy to the numbers of medical school dropouts and failed investment bankers because it seems as though attempting to succeed in a the latter professions is worth more than in the former – a concept which confounds me. If your talents lie in the arts and not in a laboratory, who is anyone to compare the value of two entirely different sets of skills?

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I love my degree and I am pleased to say that I chose to study medicine despite my parents better efforts to discourage me from it but in truth, I only ever really considered vocations from the ‘Unofficial Asian Career Guide’. I expect that if there was a recipe for success, it would plainly state that equal measures of passion and ability are required. There is no assurance of success in anything but if your heart doesn’t lie in whatever you choose to pursue, then there is a great deal of potential for failure. Perhaps it would be prudent therefore to stop limiting the potential of the younger generations by ushering them along predetermined paths and instead encouraging them to forge a path for themselves in whatever their imagination conceives.