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Posts Tagged ‘hell’

WOTH cover smallA quick look at Smashwords’ “trending” titles has me wondering about the company I’m keeping these days. Many book covers on there feature a “ripped” male torso, often tattooed and with titles that imply the illustrated man is a real bad-un who treats his wife/girlfriend/lover appallingly. The implication is that muscles and maltreatment are attractive to females, that Alpha male culture is alive and well, that if a man wants a svelte, blonde haired, blue eyed mate with a peachy bottom, he’d be better leaving off his cerebral development to spend more time at the gym, pumping iron or whatever else it is black hearted cads are supposed do.

I’m sorry girls, if I was never that way for you, that I was sensitive and somewhat flimsy, to say nothing of concave in the pectoral region, though, thinking back, it might explain a lot, and worse that I have been badly letting down the present Mrs Graeme by my lack of aspiration to the more simian levels of impolite society. She says not, but I fear she’s just being polite.

So it hardly seems worthwhile my putting pen to paper on yet one more story featuring an ordinary, if somwhat eccentric, oppressed guy, and a girl who rewards his kindness, to say nothing of his angsty, halting advances with her love. It hardly seems worthwhile putting out a title as vague and sexless as say: “Winter on the Hill” when there’s a chance it’ll appear on the same shelves as: “Bad boy punishes his b*&ch” and “Bullied by her Man”. It seems I’m niche, and my niche is getting narrower.

I know we’re talking about light entertainment here, fluff for kiddies maybe, people with the majority of their lives ahead of them, but still it’s worrying the type of stories they’re being told, to say nothing of the stories they’re telling others. And it’s no use me saying it’s not really like that, that I don’t actually know any cruel men, because for sure they do exist. It’s just that I instinctively distance myself from them and thereby defeat them by not entering into combat in the first place. I also stand so far ahead in time, at least from the perspective of life remaining to me, I’m as good as dead to the young for all the relevance I have, and maybe that’s the way it’s always been. My niche then, is people of a similar age and outlook to myself, which is what? Late middle age, middle income, and a Cappuccino socialist to boot? Yes, indeed, a narrowing niche.

My stories are about a man’s puzzlement at life, about looking at the crazy flow of events and trying to make sense of one’s self and others, and how in the end the events of life themselves are irrelevant, that it’s only in relation to others we truly discover our selves.

Sartre is a difficult philosopher for me, but it was he who said: “Hell is other people”, and I know exactly what he means – this line coming from his play “In Camera”. Three strangers, lately dead, find themselves in Hell. But Hell is a small, locked room and only themselves for company. Initially they await in dread the torture and the fire and brimstone of biblical telling, each eventually realising that while without the others their continued existence has no substance, it is equally the case there is no torture Hell can devise that is worse than “other people”. It’s a conclusion I’ve perhaps been fumbling towards myself, but the other way around, that if other people can be Hell – and they certainly can, especially to an introverted type like me – we can also find heaven in them. I don’t mean everybody of course, though we always do well to understand where others are coming from, their back-stories, their trials, their tribulations.

But is is worth spending the whole of 2020 on another novel, rambling towards that same conclusion?

Oh, well, go on then,…as if I could stop myself.

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van goughReactions to suicide say much about society’s attitudes to mental health. In Victorian times, suicides were often explained away in order to avoid a social stain on the family. There was also the unhelpful religious belief that those who died by their own hand went straight to hell. So we got things like: he accidentally fell into the pond and drowned, or he accidentally shot himself while cleaning his gun.

There’s still an air of evasiveness when discussing mental illness, but there is at least a recognition now that it is a real illness rather than a weakness of character. When someone known to us takes their life, the reaction is one of shock that anyone so well liked/loved/respected could ever feel that way and we be unaware of it. But there’s guilt too that we did not see it coming, that we did not do more to help. We feel complicit, guilty in our silence at holding to the secret of others’ despair. But what can one do? Not everyone suffering from mental illness wants to talk about it. And when you realise how little others understand your feelings, you can hardly be blamed for not wanting to share them.

There are no easy answers.

It’s an unfortunate fact that high-profile celebrity suicides raise awareness more than any well meaning mental health campaign. They launch tragedy squarely onto the front pages, but even here amid the collective shock, “normal” people can still be dismissive, telling us celebrities are notorious libertines, usually off their heads on drugs and it should be no surprise they kill themselves now and then. But this is to ignore the despair and the sheer existential emptiness that underlies mental illness, an illness bullet-pointed with unshakable, negative self beliefs:

* My life is a mess;
* I am ill adjusted to the place I find myself in, yet cannot escape it;
* I am unequal to my responsibilities;
* People expect more from me than I am capable of delivering;
*I am letting everyone down;
*It’s all out of control;
*I cannot move another step;
*I am useless;
*I am a bad person;
*My life has no meaning;

Do any of the above ring true for you?

Of course people in the forefront of public life are no more likely to suffer mental illness than the ordinary and the poor. Indeed being poor, being unable to make ends meet is a very dangerous place to be in the mental health stakes, more so as you are less likely to have the money to access competent people who can help you. But we all worry, and even when we have nothing to worry about, like having no money and no job, we invent other worries – seemingly trivial things – and inflate them to apocalyptic proportions. If we are susceptible, these worries will plant the seeds that blossom into hideous mental blooms of distorted self image.

We need to talk about it. Even just sharing the secret with someone can help. I spoke of mental health services last time – admittedly in less than glowing terms. Lack of funding means the gap between aspiration and reality is now unbridgeable, at least for 90% of the population, but the important thing here is that we make the effort. We admit our fears by sharing them with as many healthcare professionals who will listen. Even if the person we’re sharing them with has one eye on the clock, and can never get our name right, the process of sharing can be helpful. But there are other things we can do too, things that are even more effective in returning control of our selves back to our selves.

With a little imagination we can think of the human being, metaphysically, as comprising three vessels – the physical, the mental and the spiritual. We need to keep all three topped up. If one of those vessels is leaking, it can be replenished by the others. If all the others are leaking too, then we’re in trouble, but the good news is paying attention to any one of them can help the entire system to restore its balance.

The easiest to fix is the physical.

Among my memories of the darkest of my hours there shine radiant beacons of days simply walking in the Lake District Mountains. I have never felt ill on a mountain. It was when I came back down to earth the problems recurred. Physical exercise of any kind is good for us, good for circulation of the blood and the lymphatic system – getting the good stuff in and the bad stuff out, and you don’t need to do it on a mountain; a walk in the park is good too, or take up dancing, jogging, tennis, Tai Chi,… whatever interests you and suits your abilities. The after-effects of even gentle physical exercise dribble through into the mental vessel, surprising the most depressed of moods with little revelations of relaxation and calm.

It sounds too good to be true, that merely exercising the body can make a real difference the problem is, getting up off your arse when the black dog comes calling takes a monumental effort. We resist it, even though we know it’s good for us. This is another of the mysteries of mental illness; it is as if the pain is itself an intelligent entity dwelling within us and fears for its existence; it sees where we’re going with this and holds us back; it would much rather we vegetate in front of the telly, drink alcohol every night, and drop fatty treats into our mouths. I know, I’ve done it. But we must resist the resistance.

And keep moving.

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