Keep Your Friends Close (And Your Problems Closer)
Everyone wants you to talk about your problems…until you do. This is a universal truth. Consciously we all accept that to talk about one’s problems is an essential way of dealing with them. However, we also all share an aversion to negativity hence, when someone tries to talk about their problems, we tell them to “buck up”, “man up” or “look on the bright side”. The more they try to share their burden, the more they get a reputation for being a “whinger” or a “whiner” or just being “negative”, which of course compounds their issues as the friends and family they look to for support slowly start to distance themselves.
Eventually, inevitably, that someone will turn to self-medication through food, drugs, alcohol, self-harm, the list of ways people find to escape themselves is endless! And finally something happens; a collapse, an overdose, a suicide attempt and everyone claims they would have done something sooner if only they’d known.
There’s a wonderful lyric from the song Doc Pomus written by Ben Folds and the author Nick Hornby:
He could never be one of those happy cripples, the kind that smile and tell you life’s okay.
That’s me that is. I don’t often see the bright side, the silver lining, despite all my privilege. As the British comedian Rhys James says:
I'm a (young), white, middle class, straight man. In the game of life that is what's called a Royal Flush.
Yet, despite all these blessings I tend to err on the darker side of life and I don’t know why but I do know it’s not a choice, for who would choose to feel this way? I often wonder where my particular outlook on life comes from. Is it a result of nature or nurture? Sometimes I think it’s in-built, like my sexuality, other times I think it has evolved, like my sense of humour. It can be affected by external factors such as the amount of stress or alcohol or exercise I am taking. But it’s always there, a solid foundation beneath the facade.
I don’t revel in it. I don’t think it makes me more special or interesting and I take steps to deal with it but sometimes, like during a global pandemic for instance, no amount of abstinence or exercise can cover the fact that I am 7,000km from my oldest friends and family, my favourite landscapes and locations, my art, culture and connections. And telling me that “there’s nothing you can do about” doesn’t make a damned bit of difference! It aches.
Despite what you might be thinking, I am an idealist and a dreamer. I honestly hope for the best, I’m just often disappointed. Maybe I should adopt the position of Peter La Fleur in one of my favourite comfort films, Dodgeball (inspiration can come from anywhere), who says:
I've found that, if you have a goal, that you might not reach it, but if you don't have one, you're never disappointed.
But what is a world without goals, without dreamers? It’s a world a realists and they are worse than the pessimists for they deal relentlessly in what is with no imagination for what could be, good or bad. It’s like those people who paint photo-realistic pictures; they demonstrate great skill but absolutely no imagination.
So, what is this dreamer to do? I have and continue to pro-actively manage my mental health, I don’t wallow in it, comforting though that can sometimes be. I have been to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) once to deal with alcohol abuse, and psychotherapy three times to deal with the underlying causes. I have managed to avoid anti-depressants so far, instead opting to reduce my alcohol intake and increase exercise. Consequently, I have managed to avoid any catastrophic episodes but sometimes, in my weaker moments, I think, why bother? Because whilst you’re coping with your mental health, nobody really takes it seriously. Sometimes, in my weakest moments, I find myself praying for a total mental breakdown, a definitive event that will make people aware of how delicate the balance is and force them listen, at last, with empathy and without judgement. Until then, if you want to keep your friends and family close, my advice is to keep your problems closer.