Am I turning into a curmudgeon? (Dictionary definition for all those out there who don’t read: “a person, especially an old man, who is easily annoyed or angered and who often complains?)
They say our character is partly the product of our life experience, partly genetic, partly upbringing. But if you are approaching curmudgeonary (curmudgeonhood?) how much of it is shaped by HIV? Does the virus infiltrate not only our body but our minds, turning us sweet and patient things, there to give a hand to those in need, in to raging loudmouths with no use for anyone whose views differ from our own? And how much does aging change up things?
The question of the connection between HIV, aging and crankiness is one I posed to a bemused Sean Rourke, Scientific and Executive Director of the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN). He is an expert on brain health so I thought if there is anyone who would know why I have become a pain in the ass to anyone who does not agree with me, albeit a supremely gifted one, he would know. But over hors d'oeuvres at a reception last week it was clear he was stumped. Crankiness is not a factor, it seems, that is traditionally measured, even though it can reach epic proportions in people like me who have been around the HIV movement a little too long for their own mental health.
Turns out that the connection will likely be a mystery for some time to come. Even the connections between HIV, aging and other illnesses we experience – you will often hear them referred to by those who do research as "comorbidities" - isn’t, it seems, something they can figure out. So if we go dotty as we approach 70, who knows if it's because of HIV, HIV treatment or the way we choose to live our lives? They call that latter thing “lifestyle factors” - think smoking, alcohol, substance use or anything else that makes life worth living. Whatever, it’s a fact that we HIVers tend to have more life threatening illnesses than Mr. or Mrs. HIV-negative, but why?
You would think that we would have figured that out, but it seems like we haven’t, at least according to the OHTN Research Conference in Toronto last week, but lifestyle choices seem the most likely candidates. But I don’t even smoke, yet alone have a lifestyle, so who knows?
Are we HIVers aging faster than Mr. or Mrs. HIV-negative? Easy-peasy to figure out, right? But that seems to be in doubt too with those lifestyle factors again fingered as the reason for earlier onset of age-related illness. Jeez! Next thing they will tell me that even bingo is bad for my health!
OK, confession time. When it comes to crankiness, some have observed it encroaching on my otherwise saccharine-sweet deposition. My exhaustive research – OK I asked my partner and he knows everything. or thinks he does – tells me I’m not alone. Crankiness creeps up on you and before you know it you are like Walter Matthau on steroids.
In a cranky person’s world, believe me, those who annoy you are legion. It’s not confined to work either. The gum chewing check-out girl at Walmart is just as likely to incur my wrath for not offering me a free muscle car calendar – or whatever useless trinket they are giving out to those who smile on them. I tell you, being cranky is a 24/7 bitch!
But what about the connection with HIV? Has a lifetime of dealing with chronic illness turned us, in the words of the brilliant Donald Trump (he’s my man), into something “tremendously nasty?” Clearly we need a longitudinal trial, where we can observe the actions of an HIV-negative control group lined up for coffee at Tim Hortons, against a similar HIV-positive group thrust into the same situation. Throw in someone at the front of each line who wants to order four iced capps, a box of 24 Timbits and 16 assorted soup and sandwich combos and you have the making of a maddening but all too familiar situation for each line up. It’s the ultimate test of crankiness to see which line cracks first
I’m betting the HIV-negative line merely whines while the HIV-positive line blows a gasket equivalent to Mount St Helens at full eruption.
But why so? Again it’s the eternal conundrum. Is it the HIV, HIV meds, the impact of aging - or lifestyle?
Dr. Oz, bless his idiot soul, offers six reasons for extreme crankiness. None of them of course apply to me.
In any event, crankiness leads to anger and anger leads to rage, But “rage is a political tool” says famed HIV advocate and slightly cranky person Stephen Lewis. So maybe this crankiness can be nurtured. Maybe crankiness is a good thing.
Once in Time Magazine there was a wonderful essay on crankiness. Part of it reads “old codgers like me don't buy into the fairy tale that these are the Best Years of Our Life. They know better. If life is a journey, then your 60s are the homeward leg when you're hung up in an airport and thinking bad thoughts about your travel agent. Your shoes have been x-rayed, your flight is delayed, you're trapped in a lounge full of idiots with those dangly cell phones and voices like chainsaws. You'd like to tell them to get lost.”
He’s right. Anyway, read through this entire article? OK now, go get lost and do something productive for a change! I have a cranky column to write.