Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Happy happy joy joy

What are you meant to do when you're feeling sad? Because you're down in the dumps you're in no mood to go out dancing or do silly handstands. You may not even have a blog to cheer you up, a glum little no-blog, although some people seem to muddle through.

The problem is that once you get a little low there's a temptation to dwell on things. Turning stuff over in your mind. Thinking and rethinking without actually progressing. Gin helps, it's true, but the danger of your sadness becoming a thing in itself, then for itself, is one that is all too difficult to avoid.

When afflicted with depression many people begin to overthink to the extent that your depression becomes an ever present companion. Even when you're laughing it's still there, reminding you not to get too happy, to stay on the path.

The natural reaction when you're suffering is to think "what is wrong with me?" and even to regard yourself as abnormal. You are not abnormal, and even if you were I'd still like you.

We'll often search for answers with simple solutions. The one big problem that, by logical extension, requires that one magic bullet to solve. If it wasn't for A you'd be free from these feelings. You'd be healthy and strong.

There was an excellent interview with Bernadette Devlin in one of the Sunday papers the other week. In it she said something very striking (although I'll have to paraphrase as I've no time to look it up). Essentially she said that often people look for that one horrific moment that scarred them for life. The moment their father was shot dead in front of them, or when they were caught in a car bomb blast. But the fact is, she said, is that the horrific thing that happened to her was the last forty years. Day to day life is what's got under her skin, there was no turning point, just being on a shit road from the start.

Of course this isn't a perspective with easy answers. You can't say if only I could untangle this knot I'll be fine when you have been inhabiting depression for so long. With the one-terrible-moment theory we just have to uncover the secret and we are done, happy happy joy joy from that moment on.

Unfortunately, it doesn't tend to work out that way. Whilst I'm not opposed to people coming to terms with any darkness in their past bringing things to the surface that have long been covered up is the start of a very painful process, not the end of it, and one that holds no guarantees of a solution or a happy ending.

Some years ago I attended a counselling course and we were instructed in various techniques to help people relax and open up to us, with the idea that just by talking about our problems we can begin to address them. We were then encouraged to try these techniques out (for practice I suppose) on each other, on our friends, etc.

Well, if anyone has ever attended a counselling course they we will know that a sizable number of people on these courses should come under the heading of users rather than providers of counselling services. It was a recipe for disaster. The moment people began talking, about things that some of them had never aired to anyone before, the whole place became a disaster zone. No one was equipped to deal with the problems that poured out. It was like being told how to take a car apart without knowing how to put it back together again and then being instructed "off you go and start tinkering with engines". A little knowledge can certainly be a dangerous thing.

A friend of mine recently went to a hypnotherapist in order to help him expel some demons. He was told on arrival that all it would take is to unearth a problematic event and he'd be happy. Then throughout the session the "therapist" consistently searched for and guided him towards childhood incidents. She consistently implied quite normal events were indicators of abnormal behaviour and lent everything a heavy duty significance. On session one, with someone she had never had a proper conversation with in her life.

This is not the route to happiness but to horror. Horror and bullshit.

Sometimes talking about and focusing on your problems too much *is* the problem. Hanging out with friends, having a game of five a side and then eating a nice meal may not sound like the kind of solution Freud might advocate but then he didn't have the experience of one hundred years of self obsessed, pseudo therapeutic tosh to deal with.

Tosh that leads people to self identify as having problems and then internalising that idea to such an extent that it is inescapable, that they are a problem. Tosh that leads us to become obsessed about the nutritional and psychological effects of the food we eat rather than enjoying a slap up breakfast.

Whilst I'm perfectly willing to accept that some people are allergic to wheat or nuts or chocolate I think those who volunteer for such food restriction are not doing themselves any favours.

Happy lives are not over regulated. Happy lives are not analysed in the minutest detail but are authentic productions of our desires. If you want to be happy you need to live a happy life, not stay seated in your old routines which are the tried and tested method that got you here in the first place.

The past is something that is done, it's over. It may have shaped the present but this is now an academic question. The person who can choose to live their life is you. There is no magic bullet, there is no pulse free diet or outside liberator of your real-self that can set you free. There's just you, your choices and a world of opportunity - but don't be too slow to catch up because there will come a day when all you can do is sleep. I'm sorry, it's your responsibility now.


Alice said...

How come so many bloggers are depressed?

I like this, it's very down-to-earth. I'll read it again when I'm feeling down.

Tim said...

I take it the interview you mention with Bernadette Devlin is this:

The politics of well-being, of 'positive mental health' is something that I think is very interesting. See Richard Layard's 'happiness economics' etc.

Jim Jay said...

That's it - thanks for the link!