Yesterday, a good friend of mine ended up in hospital as a result of a severe downward spiral, the type she battles fairly regularly in her mental cycle of ups and downs. In reading her summation of this event here, it occurred to me that those of us whom society considers well very rarely broach it, unless we are ruminating on the state of society.
When I say “it”, I mean, “our own mental health”.
The friend in question went through all of this whilst I, ironically, enjoyed an early morning business breakfast, listening to a keynote speaker talk about fun, play, and the importance of breathing and present-ness. So, she’s my type of lady.
She gave us a fabulous quote:
The opposite of play isn’t work. It’s depression. — Brian Sutton-Smith
Tim Ferris famously wrote about his own mental instability. If you haven’t read about that, jump over to his site and have a squiz. His post about curing anxiety with play is fascinating, and tends to reflect Sutton-Smith’s comment above.
And I’ve been there. I’ve been crippled with anxiety, living in an unhealthy, co-dependent, emotionally abusive relationship to the point where being by myself in a city was actually the most terrifying thing ever. Like, to the point of hysterics terrifying.
Or, as other people would have said whilst looking on, crazy. The truth is, not trusting your partner because of some reason you can’t define, whilst simultaneously not being able to be apart from said person, is actually the crazy part. The emotional outpouring of that was a mere indicator of things not being well.
But that’s another story, not one I am going to tell in public until I am old. Ha!
The truth is, I’m often seen as being pretty grounded. As the lovely Brizzlelass writes:
She is one of the most understanding people I have ever met and I wish every day I could find a friend with her kind of philosophical and empathetic outlook on life to call up for that cup of tea.
The truth is, as I realised today, I’m one judgemental motherfucker. I judge me, I judge you, I judge the kids crossing the road in the wrong spot. I have hardly any fashion sense myself, yet I feel capable of judging everyone else that I see. I even – and all the body-loving feminists will choke on their lattes in horror – have really strong opinions about obesity as a result of poor diet and no exercise.
Judging people by their looks is really ripe coming from a woman who’s suffered alopecia areata since she was 16, and has fabulous hair only because it’s all fake. I’ll tell that story next time.
But, I keep my opinions (unfounded, judgemental, awful, often downright stupid opinions they often are), to myself. I strive to understand other people. I put their points of view before my own. I know how to listen to people, and how best to respond to people to get them to find answers, rather than me telling them.
Now THAT is a skill you only learn when you’ve grasped the arts of both interrogation and leadership. (Not mastered, you never master anything, really.)
The fact is, I resist being labelled. By anybody. And I have an inveterate hatred of most doctors, and will never take psychotropic medications ever. I had an extraordinary homoeopath and a very, very strong personal will and attitude about me to get past my crippling anxiety.
My perspective on this persists because of my own knowledge and conclusions. And I have two other very close friends, one of whom is afflicted with a psychoaffective disorder, who does very well thank you very much on her medications – in fact, to the point where she has regained her life, and goals, and hasn’t had a hospital-resulting episode for at least three years. I am SO proud of her. And yes, I had even been at the pointy end of her paranoia when she was at her worst.
Now, where was I?
Oh yes. To this day, I have weird afflictions. I get tense and crazy about things. I have the odd meltdown every couple of months, which spills out in anger and frustration and makes me – and every person around me – upset and confused. I get so paranoid about my food sometimes (weird allergies don’t help) that I go through whole weeks with unbelievably disordered eating, sometimes not eating more than one meal a day. I have days where I cancel everything in my diary because facing people is just too fucking hard. I have the occasional day (at least once a month) where I just give it all up and stay in bed for a whole day, feeling like I’m a shitstain.
But this is normal. No person, not even the Dalai Lama himself, is happy all the time. If you are happy all of the time, and you never have doubt, fear, anxiety, unhappiness, or disgruntlement, or whatever you call it, then you are not normal.
Similarly, a state of “not feeling”, which many antidepressants give you, is not normal.
The truth is, you have to work constantly – constantly – on your attitude. The one moment you relax, your natural inclination (we all have it) is to the negative. It takes effort. If you don’t want that effort, and you’re not afflicted with an exacerbated mood swing as some people unfortunately are, then you’re lazy. Fine, that’s your choice.
It is true that you choose your attitude, however flimsily you stick to that attitude is of absolutely no account. It’s the choice that matters. Eventually, it sticks.
I learned this when I was extremely young; like, seven years old. My mum brought me a positive thinking tape and I wore that damned thing out. It also shaped, probably, my entire life, from its very foundations.
You can maintain a positive attitude by choice and it changes your life. It’s hard when you’re in a black hole, but it’s doable. The second that you let it go, you’re fighting the devil again, and if he gets the slightest hold on you, then you’re fucked. If you’re wondering where the devil comes in, go and read Napoleon Hill’s Outwitting the Devil.
In this day and age, where I can count maybe five friends at most who are NOT medicated, I am skeptical of a lot of things, and being medicated is one of them. There is a vast amount that can be cured with sunshine, unstructured play, allowing yourself to have fun, breathing, being present, and having hobbies.
And being independent. I can’t emphasise that enough. You and your most intimate person need to be independent people, with different goals, hobbies, fun things, personal time. Together you shine brighter, but each of you is a star all on his or her own. It took me a long time to see that this is normal, by the way.
And now the thing that caused me to write nearly 1000 words to start with: The issue of friends, which was the whole basis of Brizzlelass’s post.
Then one of the questions dissolved me into a blubbering mess, after asking about my family they asked about friends and I felt my newly built up façade fade as my eyes filled with tears and I had to admit I don’t have friends. Well not friends I can just call round for a cup of tea and a chat anyway.
I wonder if it would make her feel better to know that I don’t either. I have one friend that occasionally comes over for a cuppa, and we both work on maintaining that. ONE friend. Yeah? Got that? ONE.
I’m the kinda lady who has always eschewed friends, really. Mainly because they end up wearing me out. I cannot, and will not, support people who do not help themselves. I will not waste my time on them. Honestly, if you fuck up around me, I give up on you pretty quickly. Same thing if I’m doing all the work and getting nothing in return, then seeyalatermate.
The result is that I don’t have friends like this. I have friends that I am happy to have beer with, to go to their parties, to talk shop. I have friends with breakfast, people to invite to a birthday dinner, that sort of thing.
But deep friends? People I’d share secrets with? People in my own town, girls I’d go get my nails done with? None, mate. Besides the one already mentioned.
That’s ok. I have a few close friends. One’s in Bristol. One’s in Berlin. One’s in Castlemaine. They can’t come over and share my sorry, but we IM, call, exchange postcards, send letters. And if I really need them, they (and I in return) will sit up until stupid hours of the morning sharing stories, asking advice, talking dribble.
Ultimately, there is a very narrow view of friendship. And while Brizzlelass’s carers may have had good intentions, they’ve inadvertently done more damage by making her feel inadequate and disconnected. Sure, we’re all in different timezones, but the point is that we are still here. Technology – like Telegram, for example, or Whatsapp – makes texting someone on the other side of the world a no-brainer.
We need to be very careful about how narrowly we define things. This includes what “happiness” is, what “play” is, what “fun” is. And it also includes what “friends” are. Mental dis-ease comes from lots of places, and I know it more than most people, having had the kind of life that people are really surprised I’m not in therapy over.
You might be thinking that therapy would be good for me. Instead, I get my hands dirty in the garden; I dance, and I ride; I meditate; I colour in; I laugh at everything and I see the beauty and amazingness in things from falling leaves to the splashes of the dishes in my sink.
This is not because I’m naturally light-hearted, gifted, genius, or special. It’s because I work at it, all the time. Your mental state takes more work – more effort – than your body does. The difference is, you feel like you’ve achieved something when your muscles hurt. But when you’ve had a whole day of enjoying the beauty around you, it doesn’t leave a trace unless you choose to record it.
Your challenge is learning that not having an attachment to a thing is ok. (And your attachment to feelings resulting from external things like care, or internal things like physical feedback, is still attachment.)
And now, a poem. I found it here if you’re curious:
The true person is not anyone in particular;
But, like the deep blue colour of the limitless sky, is everyone, everywhere in the world.
The unspoilt colours of a late summer night, the wind howling through the lofty pines –
The feel of autumn approaching: The swaying bamboos keep resonating,
And shedding tears of dew at dawn; Only those who exert themselves fully will attain the Way.
But even if you abandon all for the ancient path of meditation you can never forget the meaning of sadness.