This Thing Called Self-consciousness

16 08 2020

Frequent visitors (are there any?) will recognise that my posts are often spurred by odd coincidences in my life – most usually in threes. We all perceive patterns that aren’t necessarily there (pareidolia anyone?), and in my case something flicks a switch when I at least perceive that I’ve noticed three related things pass through my consciousness.

The first item – a singleton of no particular note at the time – was my wife remarking that she was enjoying a Netflix series called “Love on the spectrum“. It’s an Australian 4-part reality show about various people on the autism spectrum trying to find life partners.

Netflix trailer: Love on the Spectrum

I admit to being pretty sceptical. It sounded like pure voyeurism and I suppose I anticipated something on the lines of the Bachelor or Love Island (neither of which I’ve actually watched so perhaps the comparison is even less meaningful!) I wandered into the lounge because my wife kept laughing out loud. I was prepared for producing a negative response, but I was actually very impressed.

The clip I saw involved a date at a restaurant. I was struck by the fact that the production team had obviously selected a quiet, reasonably isolated locations to reduce stress on the participants. Michael in the above clip, was one of the participants. Anyway, his date suddenly felt overwhelmed and stood up from the table. I was very impressed by how the film crew audibly asked how she was doing and made it clear she could move off camera and collect her thoughts in privacy and in her own time. Humane behaviour over “getting the shot”. Michael to his credit was most concerned for her well-being and it all felt respectful and compassionate whilst still being “real”.

Sure, they had some cheap caricatures of each participant’s likes and dislikes (i.e. potential behaviour triggers), but I thought the programme did an amazing job of showing humanity in all its shades. The clips of home life were well selected to show caring, supportive families going to great lengths to point out that their children’s “love issues” were the same for everyone – shown clearly in the above clip of Michael’s family dinner. These were family members to be supported like all others, not “projects” to be endured. Some class parenting on view here.

So anyway, this was the first as-yet unremarked corner of my triangle.

The second corner came last night when I was trouble-shooting why Spotify refused to play any music. It was bouncing rapidly down my playlists without actually playing anything and occasionally saying it couldn’t play that tune just now. Not in the mood?!

Eventually I figured out that when Windows put my HDMI-connected monitor into sleep mode, it was also turning off the connected speakers. No issue – it only powered it down after 30 minutes of disuse, to save power. Trouble was that when it re-woke the monitor, the PC was no longer able to reconnect to the monitor’s speakers. Only the directly connected headphones. Go figure. It knew they were still there, but somehow “out of reach”.

Anyway, once sorted, I randomly selected a Kate Nash playlist, and enjoyed remembering a very low key concert she gave in Vancouver a few years ago. Listening, as I do, to the lyrics, I noticed that a few of her more recent songs explicitly referred to mental health issues. She’s often blunt in her lyrics, but they’re raw and real and all the more powerful for that. I was particularly moved by “Don’t You Want to Share the Guilt?” with its lyrics:

The sun is going down now
And it’s been okay
You tell me all these things you did
While I was away
And this worries me somewhat

I don’t know how more people haven’t got mental health problems
Thinking is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever come across
And not being able to articulate what I want to say drives me crazy

I’m not sure about rivers, they scare me
But I love swimming, I’m good at it
And when I swim I think about numbers
And count the laps

It starts as a rational statement then spirals out into self-referential stressful thoughts which I think many of us experience to some degree on the way to anxiety. Rivers scare me, but I love swimming, but I zone out and count the laps in the pool, but… We over-think so many aspects of our experiences.

YouTube version of Don’t You Want to Share The Guilt?

Anyway, it struck me as a clever treatment of mental stress and how it isn’t a digital “normal/not normal” thing. There’s a whole spectrum of mental health issues and we travel up and down it (actually – in multiple dimensions) constantly. I’m not sure if Ms Nash was making a statement about her own mental health or just putting a spotlight on the general issue. Either way, it was very well done I thought.

Corner three was in the same sort of vein. Having figured out how to get Spotify to reliably play my “tunage”, I dipped into Mother Mother this morning.

One of their later songs “It’s Alright” from their “Dance and Cry” album really moved me.

Mother Mother: It’s Alright on Vevo

It has a simple message:

It’s alright, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s okay
You’re not a monster, just a human
And you made a few mistakes
It’s alright, it’s okay, it’s alright, it’s okay
You’re not gruesome, just human
And you made a few mistakes
It’s alright

How many of us suffer in silence because we need to hear that our behaviours are not enough to label us as demons or monsters? Someone to take the time to listen to us share our thoughts, coupled with our own willingness to share those thoughts in the first place and listen when someone is kind enough to tell us that it’s alright – humans being. (sic)

My perception is that as a society we’re a lot more able to share our inner thoughts and fears than we were say 60 years ago. Mental health is no longer seen simply as an issue for the fringe, or an excuse for avoiding military service. We’re not “there” yet though, and depression is still often seen as weakness.

Mental health is important, and many of us are still unwilling to acknowledge it even within ourselves. We can all help though: ask someone how they’re doing, but really listen to their response. Don’t judge. If that seems too much, try simply smiling at someone that looks like they need it. It may well help them and it will definitely make you feel good about sharing some good vibes. Need some practice? Try this at Movember’s site.

I’m no psychologist but I know we’re social animals and when we feel emotionally isolated, especially when we’re physically not, it can be a strong driver towards depression and any number of negative behaviours.

November’s a way off yet, but don’t wait – consider supporting Movember or other mental health charities.

A Nosey Observation

10 08 2020

I was on an aeroplane the other day. Saturday.

The young woman in front of me was travelling with her mother who was sat in the row in front of her. She never spoke to her once after she’d seated her.

I could see her writing notes on her phone. Journalling, I suppose. I couldn’t help peering in what I admit was actually an intrusive, voyeuristic way. Blogging about it now seems both confessional and also multiplying the error of judgement.

Her typing was all mushy stuff about positive thoughts and about her relationship with “Dom”. He was off to Moscow it seems. She had guilt issues about their physical relationship (no details unfortunately), and its “sinful” nature. They had mutually agreed to abstain, but since he was in Mocow and she was currently headed to Nice it all seemed rather moot!

I felt a little sorry for her that in the 21st century after the birth of a little jewish boy of questionable parentage, the cult that grew around him and his story-telling was causing this young woman such emotional turmoil.

And yet, for all the hemming and hawing she was recording about this supposedly sinful nature of her relationship with Dom, she never once passed a remark – kind or even casual – to her elderly mother sat between two strangers on a lengthy international flight.

How odd that we find it more comforting to dwell on the restrictions imposed by the tzars of our chosen religion than on its positive recommendations. It’s as if we’re more at ease beating ourselves up over trivial human failings than spending a little effort being kind to someone else. Even our own flesh and blood.