I got 80 in biology in grade 9. That sounds decent, but even though I may later have gotten worse marks in other things, I would label biology my worst subject.

I could never have been a doctor or a vet.

It’s not that viscera bothers me. I went weirdly serene when my daughter split her chin open and the fat bulged out from the skin like an extra tongue.

I’ve been disemboweled, though in all fairness, I was in a coma for a week or two shortly after that. It was disembowel, vague memories of a frantically speeding Cordoba heading toward Ottawa, my father’s hand trying to press rags onto my belly, a lot of blood, then however long, and an airlift to London Children’s Hospital once I woke up. Then some stupid kid with ADD jumping back and forth between my bed and his, threatening to pop all the stitches holding my guts in.

I’ve seen countless horror deaths on television and in movies. Luther Strode‘s extreme violence made me a little ill, but that was the point, and it was a terrific series, so whatever. I agree with Brian K. Vaughan’s sentiment in Saga: real life violence is terrible. Fictional violence is brilliant.

Still, I can’t watch surgery on Youtube or worse, see any kind of animal in pain. It breaks my heart to see dead squirrels as roadkill. I hit one a few years back by accident (one was chasing another into the road and I couldn’t swerve in time). It still bothers me.

As I understand it, cortisol is what’s released when you’re stressed, or when the fight or flight reflex kicks in. It’s a good thing, or was, back in the day when a tiger might jump us or we get stuck in a bank during a holdup.

These days, it’s so constant as a result of perceived threats (a boss, family drama, general stress over money, time, health, sex, whatever) that it’s literally breaking us down.

I started taking ashwaganda in the last week because it supposedly helps with lowering cortisol levels, lessening the impact of constant fight or flight stress caused by environmental and social issues.

Going on Twitter causes cortisol spikes for me, unless I manage to avoid everything with the word Trump.

I suppose an outlet would be better, but I think it’s time to get this under control. The last book I wrote taught me that any little thing is better than being dead; this one seems to be teaching me that what we think of ourselves and what we actually are can be two very, very different things.

The cognitive dissonance between those things is frightening at times. You’re never quite sure how wide the gap really is. To stop caring about it can cause narcissistic blindness, because you forget you live in an interconnected system where your behaviour affects more than just yourself. Becoming deluded about who and where you are in the world, what your situation is, sums up to one of the oldest stories of tragedy in history.

How many thought they were invincible, only to have the rug pulled out from under them by what was actually real?

On the other hand, worrying constantly about what other people think is crazy-making. It pushes us to conform to norms we don’t support or to do things to please other people we’d never have otherwise done (and don’t feel good about). We become a puppet, a marionette jolted back and forth by a sadistic child.

How many people go to their graves miserably trying to conform to someone else’s belief of how they should live or who they should be?

Finding that balance – understanding who you are, or at least want to be, and where you are in rough relation to that from the perspective of the rest of the world – that’s the trick.

Anything is better than being six feet under, but knowing you’re standing on solid ground and not the Titanic is better still.

At least, it probably is for your cortisol levels.

I know it is for mine.

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