‘Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness’Carl Jung
No idea where I’m going with this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post with the prompt word of ‘trick’ other than steering well clear of all things Halloween.
I also have no idea why we Brits use the rather derogatory slang term ‘trick cyclist’ to refer to a Psychiatrist, but we do! I could always look it up on the internet but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, suffice to say I’ve seen a couple of Trick Cyclists in my time and both have been perfectly non-tricky. Nice guys (not being sexist here – both Psychiatrists whose care I have been under were actually male) who clearly acted and advised with concern and my best interests at heart. Definitely much appreciated.
Sadly I can’t say the same for all the Psychotherapists I’ve seen though – the last one clearly had a narrow agenda all of her own and on our last meeting where I sat silent for the entire hour with tears running down my face in sheer frustration because everything I had said previously had been twisted to suit her preferred pathway of thought, I decided enough was enough and I wasn’t ever going back. It still smarts when I think of it, years later, to have felt so disempowered and disenfranchised and tied up in tight knots by someone who was supposed to be helping me loosen and unravel my long-term mental health issues.
Trying to stabilise and level out my own psychological problems does sometimes feel like a bit of a balancing act though – here I am right now feeling caught in the spotlight of my very own personal circus ring, the rest of the world looking on as I struggle to stay upright and show that I really can do this life thing, watching me fly my freak flag high and keep my multiple plates spinning while constantly adjusting my balance on my rickety old unicycle. A collective sharp intake of breath from the front row as the world watches me fall, then exhales in relief as I pick myself up, dust myself off and get straight back on again.
So these days I am basically my own trick cyclist, allowing everyone else to be able to mutter gratefully under their breath ‘Not my circus, not my monkeys’ as they leave the tent reassured that thankfully I have finally found the ability to keep my own show on the road and my melancholic monkey-mind under some semblance of control – for now at least… 🙂
I struggle a bit with believing in myself, I have life-long issues with never feeling good enough at just about everything and at nearly 57 I’m getting really fed up with constantly questioning my own credibility.
I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret not doing things at all because I was always too afraid of not being good enough at them. And yet that’s what I do to myself all the time – in order to avoid feeling ‘not good enough’ by failing at something creative, instead I simply don’t try to do the thing in the first place. In my warped brain I have an age-old message telling me that in order for me to feel good enough it has to be total success or nothing, so invariably nothing it is. But ironically that turns out to be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy – a default not good enough failure by the back door.
Take my latest creative inner battle ‘thing’ – drawing and painting. I really like drawing and painting, always have done since childhood but I haven’t actually done it in years because I know I won’t meet the exacting standard of perfection lodged in my brain, and I’m so afraid of being proved not good enough I avoid even trying to pick it up again. Basically I’m too scared of sucking at it to try. But yesterday I’d had enough of the never-ending not-good-enoughs, so I got out my old art stuff and just started painting. Not to try to be good at it, but to try to have fun with it – and I learned a few things about myself.
I’m generally my own worst critic, but when I finally got that inner voice to shut the fuck up and stop being a nit-picking spoil-sport I found overall I actually quite liked what I painted, imperfections and all.
My drawing and painting skills are understandably a bit rusty after pretty much a full adult lifetime of not using them but to be honest it seems I’m nowhere near as bad as I think I am.
I still have a reasonably good eye for colour and composition, and ok so my perspective needs some fine-tuning but underneath all my fretting and fear the fundamental basics are still there.
I understand that the world appears a certain way as captured in reality by the camera, but in my mind’s eye I may see it or choose to represent it slightly differently and that’s ok – I can change colours or proportions as I want and that’s absolutely fine by me. Everyone else can just take a running jump if they don’t like it.
My artwork, my choice… Oh, and while I’m at it I suppose it’s also my life, my choice, and always has been… Duh! 🙂
Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:
Is the concept of ‘you’ continuous or does the past ‘you’ continually fade into the present and future ‘you’? Considering that your body, your mind, and your memories are changing over time, what part of ‘you’ sticks around?
This is a question, or at least in variations on a theme, that has been on my mind for as far back as I can remember. And having studied questions of identity in depth as part of my degree studies (a blend of psychology and sociology) I may have a more rational, intellectual, academic ‘head’ answer to give, but choose instead to focus my reply on my entirely confusing ‘heart’ emotional response.
Here I am at 56 years old, and however much I understand that our identity inevitably grows and changes along with our life experiences, to me there is an integral part of me that feels much the same as I always have done. In the same way as I look at photographs of me as a child and recognise my external self in that past image, so I can experience a similar core recognition of uninterrupted internal self across the years. In essence I feel that I am who I am, who I always have been, an accumulation, an amalgamation of all the nascent me’s that ever existed.
It’s as if my own memories all layered together make me feel me, my sense of self a kind of constant continuation of my life narrative to date. It is perhaps that ongoing internal life-story that makes me feel most like me – my hopes, my fears, my desires and my disappointments all dissolved and diluted into a complex cocktail of me-ness that remains whatever I do and wherever I go in life. I can look back comfortably and know that I was that person at that time, and now I am this person at this time, and that changing experience feels just fine to me.
So there we go, a pretty confused emotional answer to a pretty confusing question! 🙂
I’d love to be one of those people who can look back on life and say – Yup, I’ve absolutely nailed it! But in order to be able to do that, you first have to know clearly what it is you want out of life, have a long-term plan to work towards, and then stick to it. I don’t really have a fixed plan – to be honest I’ve never had a fixed plan.
I’ve always been more of a non-plan plan girl…
When I was really young, I was ill a lot, and I remember thinking I might want to be a nurse. Then as I got a bit older, I thought I might want to be a doctor. And then when it became clear my school grades weren’t going to make medicine an easy possibility, I shifted away from healthcare and towards thinking creatively about studying art instead. I even applied for Art School in my final year, but wasn’t accepted straight away after leaving school.
At that point I just drifted away from the idea of study.
So not long after leaving school at 17, while working locally in retail and still living at home, I started going out with a local boy I used to go to primary school with, and we soon got engaged, planning our wedding for the following summer. I’d discovered sex with a bang, felt grown up in the smug self-important way that overly-hormonal teenagers do, and the thought of studying became a distant memory. I was going to be a wife and that felt fine.
And then not long after I turned 18 I got pregnant and embarked on the trepidatious journey of motherhood.
It wasn’t a happy marriage. I tried so hard to make it work, we had three children together but the honest truth is I know now we should never have got married in the first place. I struggled with depression throughout, as I did before and after. I still struggle on and off with depression today. We separated when I was 24, had a very acrimonious divorce that took four long years to go through, and in the end the children stayed with me.
Over the years I did my best in bringing them up, but sadly I made many mistakes along the way. Messed up some, lost my sense of direction, took more than a few wrong turns.
And so one way or another my ongoing non-plan plan has continued evolving organically ever since. Decades have past. Lots of water has passed under lots of bridges, none of which have been burned beyond repair. I’m not a nurse or a doctor, but for a while I did work in a hospital as a physiotherapy assistant. I’m not an artist, but I am still quite creative. I’m not actually a career girl of any sort in any way, shape or form, full stop. I’m still a mum. I did eventually study though, graduating at 40 with a First Class Honours Degree, and thankfully at 56 – I’ll turn 57 later this year – I’m now happily married with six grandchildren.
Hopefully life is finally mending and healing for all of us.
So I wouldn’t say I’d nailed life, I’d say it was more screwed up than nailed down. But it’s still holding together and at this point I’m not about to quibble over whether I should have used a hammer or a screwdriver to get here – a tool is a tool is a tool. You use what you have to hand, and you get on with it. Stuff is fixed in place, is where it needs to be, and that’s all that matters. It’s my life, and I try not to have too many regrets. I’m not exactly proud of the convoluted path I’ve taken to get here, but I’m no longer as ashamed of it as I used to be.
And I think overall that has to be a good thing… 🙂
‘The afternoon of life is just as full of meaning as the morning; only, its meaning and purpose are different’Carl Jung
Several thousand years ago Hippocrates, who is considered today to be the father of modern medicine, first developed the theory of each of us having four humours that were required to be equally balanced in our bodies for continuing good health. His four humours were blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm – lovely! These corresponded with the four elements – air, fire, earth, and water – or the seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter.
This theory was later expanded further to conclude that if someone naturally has an excess of one of these humours in their bodies, it sets their temperament. These four temperaments were Sanguine (too much blood), Choleric (too much yellow bile), Melancholic (too much black bile), and Phlegmatic (too much phlegm). And this basic categorisation continued to underpin medical understanding for centuries.
So for example when we watch period dramas on TV and someone has a fever and is bled from a cut in their arm into a bowl, or leeches are applied, this was done in the belief that their high temperature was linked to an excess of ‘hot’ blood, and reducing the amount of blood was the prescribed method used to recreate a balance in the humours within the body.
Drastic by today’s standards it may be, and these very non-scientific categories may well have no recognised place in today’s theories of physiological and psychological health, but to be honest I find the idea behind their holistic approach to treating the whole body/ mind continuum together as one entity refreshingly modern in thought.
And I would be the first to recognise myself as being a Melancholic person – I’m sensitive and creative and very much grounded temperamentally in the cold autumnal earth – even though I recognise my normal psychological state has absolutely nothing to do with my internal levels of bodily fluids and so a purgative of any kind is most definitely not a cure for my decidedly melancholic nature! 🙂
“Fortunately, some are born with spiritual immune systems that sooner or later give rejection to the illusory worldview grafted upon them from birth through social conditioning. They begin sensing that something is amiss, and start looking for answers. Inner knowledge and anomalous outer experiences show them a side of reality others are oblivious to, and so begins their journey of awakening. Each step of the journey is made by following the heart instead of following the crowd and by choosing knowledge over the veils of ignorance.” ― Henri Bergson
Often I feel that I am the anomaly in life, I am the one who is out of step with the rest of the world, unable or unwilling to fit my firmly square-edged peg into the restrictive round hole alloted to me. But then I read words like these, and feel reassured that perhaps I am, after all, philosophically on the right path for me, and feel glad of my different outlook to the accepted norm… 🙂
As well as my undergraduate degree (BA Hons in Psychosocial Studies – a deliberately cross-disciplined blend of psycholgy and sociology) I have also achieved a post-graduate certificate in Applied Positive Psychology. It was actually supposed to be a Masters Degree, but for varying reasons at that time I found studying a real strain so decided to knock it on the head only a third of the way through. The parts of the course I had already passed gave me enough credits to be to be awarded the PG Cert, so here we are.
The thing is, I was both working full time and studying part time (working Monday to Friday with weekend lectures), and after my 92-year-old grandmother died followed a couple of months later by my best friend’s husband (early 50s, cancer), my head was so full of new and unresolved stuff I just couldn’t concentrate properly, so initially took a break for a semester, and simply never went back to my studies. To be honest, I think had the course truly fulfilled the need I had for finding answers in my own life, I would probably have found a way to keep going, but as it was, I gave up.
In diametrical opposition to the intention of me studying Applied Positive Psychology, the whole experience left me feeling completely out of step with most of my classmates. Where they readily embraced many of the ideas fully and with a genuine enthusiasm, I felt resistant to many of the assumptions that were made as they simply didn’t resonate with my own life experience. I felt like the Eeyore of the group, an unintentional grey misery of negativity. The realities of my own disfunctions become glaringly obvious to me and I could see I was becoming depressed again, so withdrawing from the course seemed the best option for me at that time.
And I have no regrets – neither in relation to beginning the course nor ending it when I did. It did for me what I needed it to do, but not quite in the way I’d intended. I learned that I still had a long way to go to heal the psychological hurts of the past, and that Applied Positive Psychology was not going to be the way forward for me in this aim after all. But I still keep on looking for answers, and keep on keeping on – and I’m still here, plugging away at life, so I must be doing something right, mustn’t I? 🙂
Hmmm… Since Fandango posted his new ‘Provocative Question’ post the other day I’ve been thinking about how best to answer it. His question is:
‘If you could be the opposite sex for one day, what would you do?’
To be honest I’m really confused about how I want to answer – I mean, I could make it all jokey and flippant and fun, or I could actually give the question some serious consideration – it is supposed to be a provocative question, after all? And as my academic degree is in a cross-discipline blend of psychology and sociology, inevitably gender was a topic I studied at length and in-depth, therefore I do actually have some serious thoughts on the subject, whether right or wrong.
And then today I read Melanie’s post on Sparks From a Combustible Mind and thought about the following questions she has posed about gender:
Do we as a society have a tendency to HAVE to categorize people into genders?
Are mastectomies de-feminizing for the women who get them? Does one lose part of one’s identity because one has had one or both breasts removed or altered?
The men who lose their gonads (balls to those in the cheap seats) because of tumors or cancer…is it the same kind of reaction the woman has to losing her breast(s)?
Does our self image get so wrapped up in outward appearances, that we lose sight of the fact that we’re all PEOPLE, regardless of outward ‘markers’?
So I decided I’d think about Fandango’s question and Melanie’s questions together in the same post, and see where that took me…
Hmmm… well as thankfully this is not an academic paper, all I’m going to speak to is my own lived experience – which may come across as a bit controversial to some, but it is nevertheless how I see it. For a consideration of patriarchy in general, it’s usually taken as read that classification via gender is paramount in any familial, social and cultural hierarchy based on presumed male superiority. (And yes, classifications of race most definitely also come into this in most Western societies, but this is not the question here.)
As a British woman living in the UK but with an American husband (and so in-laws and extended family in the US) I’m always taken aback when I visit by what appears to me to be the absolute extremes in vocal gender markers in many Americans, in what sounds to me to be the deliberate affectation of unnaturally high-pitched sing-songy nasal-twang voices in many women and unnaturally low-pitched deep-down- in-their-boots voices in many men, regardless of physical body size and lung capacity. To my British ear it all seems somehow false, there’s just too much of a difference, with very little variation in-between…
Whereas here in the UK I tend to find we have much more variation in voices – many women may have naturally lower pitched voices and many men may have naturally higher pitched voices without it having any real significance to how we choose to speak (or how we are judged within society in general). But yet we also seem to understand subconsciously that historically, deeper voices always command more respect (for both male and female) so we can and do alter our pitch and tone accordingly as necessary – for example in job interviews or when speaking in public. So I suppose at heart we in the UK do still do the same vocal-gendered thing as America, but perhaps a little less obviously?
And when it comes to looks, although many people prefer presenting clearly masculine or feminine appearances, certainly lots of people I see on a daily basis here in London seem to be totally rocking the indeterminate androgynous look – straight men, straight women, gay men, gay women, transgender, non-binary – but unless there is a clear reason for requiring to know someone’s specific gender (for example, if you want to know immediately if you can make babies with them!) why should it matter? People are still people underneath it all, with thoughts and feelings and hopes and dreams, so what’s wrong with just taking someone as you find them?
I mean, if you already know someone, you already know their gender, and if you don’t know them, then frankly it’s none of your business! And if you feel that you need to know their gender in order to alter how you think of them, or to know how to treat them, then perhaps you have an inbuilt gender bias and you need to become aware of that. Most of us do to some extent or other, as it’s how we’ve all been socialised since birth – blue for boys, pink for girls, boys’ toys, girls’ toys all socialise us to move in demarcated gendered directions. But we do need to be aware of this inbuilt bias and consciously accommodate it in our ongoing judgements of others.
So it seems to me, on the surface being seen as clearly marked out as masculine or feminine is something that does seem to matter a lot to our easy acceptance and understanding of people in our particular patriarchal Western society, although perhaps it shouldn’t. And perhaps it matters even more in the US than here in the UK, because it does appear to be more blatantly obvious there – but then again I think we maybe just hide it better as a society, although underneath it all we’re just as gender-biased. Glass ceiling, anyone?
OK, so that’s Melanie’s questions 1 and 4 kind of answered – now on to questions 2 and 3… Hmmm… I think losing anything about us that we identify closely with inevitably affects the way we see ourselves in the world.
For example, I had my three children young – I gave birth at 18, 19, and 21 (look Fandango, I’ve used the Oxford comma there!) so inevitably much of my early adult identity was created around my budding fertility, on being a mum, and a young mum at that. Then in my mid-twenties I chose to have a tubal ligation to ensure no more babies would come along, and all went well with no issues, no regrets. Three decades on and my babies are all grown up now, two with babies of their own – the perfect scenario.
At least, all went well until I hit menopause recently, and now I find myself grieving my loss of fertility. How crazy is that? When I was choosing not to use it, when I was ‘in control’ of not conceiving any more, I felt fine about it. But now that nature has taken its course and effectively taken my fertility away from me once and for all, part of me feels devastated. The thing is, at my age with (not quite) six grandchildren, even on a practical level there’s just no way I want to actually be having any more babies now. But emotionally all I feel is a loss of identity, and that’s what hurts.
So if as women we identify with having breasts as an important marker of our femininity then yes, I guess losing them would create a similar emotional response to me with my fertility, however relieved we might be to still be alive. The thought of losing my womb, even though it is now entirely superfluous to requirements, would upset me too. And I imagine it’s pretty much the same for men feeling effectively emasculated by losing their main instantly recognisable emblem of man-hood.
Ok, so back to Fandango’s original question – I remember when I was a kid, sometimes I used to wish I was a boy. Oh, and I was a real tomboy. But I can see now that my wish was nothing to do with not feeling psychologically like a girl, but more to do with recognising the inherent unfairness in the society I grew up in long before the UK’s sex discrimination legislation came in, where women (and so by default, girls) were legally and socially treated as second class citizens and relegated to particular spheres and denied entry to others. I was unsurprisingly objecting to the societal unfairness of my female gender rather than professing a real a desire to be male.
So today I have no desire to be the opposite sex, even for a day, because I think it would make me feel somewhat unsettled to have to return to my female skin after having experienced the reality of living with male privilege. And for anyone who wants to deny its existence, I used to work with someone – a man at that time – who later became a woman. And much as she felt far more comfortable afterwards living as female, she was truly shocked at the resistance she encountered day to day in just going about her everyday life without any longer enjoying the (previously hidden to her) benefit of male privilege.
Well, that’s answered that provocative question with some potentially provocative answers! As a disclaimer to my post, please note I’m not expecting everyone to agree with my personal opinion and experience, so if anyone takes umbrage at anything I’ve written and wants to comment accordingly, please do be nice in your critique, as I’m quite happy to agree to disagree without us having to argue or fall out over it – thank you! 🙂