Just felt like saying I had a funny day today. I’m visiting Oxford just now and went to Blackwells which is one of my favourite bookshops. I went down into the depths of the Norrington Room and saw a whole pile of books by Richard Ayoade and a wee sign saying he was doing a book signing on the 26th of October. I checked what day it was and yes that was today. I bought his first book, Ayoade on Ayoade, in Blackwells a few years ago and it just happened to be that he was going to be there so, I bought a copy of his new book, got in the queue and got it signed. It was one of those good coincidences. Looking forward to reading it.
Poetry is beautiful and I couldn’t live without it. Sometimes though it feels like an isolating pursuit because generally I tend to read and meditate on poetry in solitude, particularly when I’m getting to grips with the subtleties of Gaelic poetry which I have to look up in the dictionary. It can feel doubly isolating when you feel as if you have been ostracised by your peers, not in all circumstances but in certain aspects. Yes, poetry can be a social activity and there are plenty of events happening in the literary world which one can go to, if there is the opportunity, unhampered by responsibilities or financial constraints.
Isolation is a state which causes vulnerability to the knocks which life can sometimes hit you with. Shocks to the system are best handled when you have a nurturing and supportive network of relationships such as family, friends and colleagues, in short, a community. And community is really important, perhaps even as important as poetry.
As it is World Mental Health Day I just thought I’d share a bit on my blog. I have had personal experience of this and it is something which I realise has been a feature all of my adult life. I had my lowest point when I was admitted to hospital (the only time I’ve ever been an inpatient) and thankfully through the support of family, friends and the NHS I have steadily been recovering. I have been on medication for a long time and I’ve also had counselling, all of which were provided by the NHS. I would have found it impossible to have done it all privately. Ironically I also trained as a medical herbalist so I found it very tough reconciling my desire to stay true to my training as a herbalist and use plant based medicines with the necessity for me to take the conventional medicines I was prescribed by my consultant psychiatrist and GP. But it was necessary and sometimes you just have to accept that.
Acceptance has been a key feature in all of my recovery. I think a lot of the major triggers and eventual breakthroughs were based on the fact there were things I felt frustrated in not being able to do but that eventually I had to accept I had no influence over. Counseling was a key feature in coming to realise, through talking to someone who would listen, that I have a complex psychological makeup that is influenced by many, many relationships, both from the past and the present and even from the past through generations. Medication alone cannot help you to realise these insights as you have to work through them and the best way to do that is through dialogue and self-reflection.
I have also come to the conclusion as well that although each of us experiences our mental states individually, and thus we feel the phenomenon of mental health or disease, that we are also part of a larger society which exerts an influence on us and our mental states and therefore we are not wholly responsible for them. I like the analogy in Scots Gaelic where emotions or illness are described as “on” you, as if they come from something beyond you which is pressed upon your being not from your own volition. This is why in our age we also have a responsibility to recognise that what we put out there will come back to us in one way or another. To express it another way, we are all building a society and what we choose to build will have positive or negative repercussions. In my youth, the society was very self-centred, egotistical and materialistic. Not much has changed you might think. However it has changed a great deal because now we are seeing the consequences of that attitude which is causing climate change and environmental destruction and the current younger generation are seeing these effects as well as experiencing the attitudes which caused them. Little wonder then that the young people of today are also struggling with mental illness which seems to start earlier and is even more intense.
So, how to solve the crisis? Or how to solve the many crises? Because they seem to be inextricably interlinked. Investment and services for young peoples’ mental health is not enough on its own. That is merely trying to put a plaster on a scratch that is being continuously affected by a source of infection, like a dirty shard of rotten wood. The shard must be removed and the wound cleaned before it is dressed. Or to put it more directly, our harmful society of greed, hate-fuelled invective, both online and in person, and violence towards the vulnerable must be transformed before we can tackle the long lasting trauma on peoples’ minds this causes.
However this being said, if you are experiencing a mental health crisis right now, do something about it. Talk to someone or go to see a medical professional. Things will get better but it takes time. And if you know someone who is struggling then help them out and don’t ignore their suffering because we all need some support. Don’t feel that you can’t offer a hand because sometimes just having a chat can help. And to the wider world, don’t stigmatise people who are suffering from mental health problems, because until it is recognised that mental illness affects people in the workplace and in society generally it will continue unabated.
Today is National Poetry Day and the theme for 2019 is Truth. So I’m sharing a poem which I wrote quite a few years ago but I feel it is still relevant.
The Epidemiology of Pathological Lying
Dedicated to Hygeia
Lying is a social disease
And every promise broken,
Every word not kept
Wears down your resistance.
Like a virus tearing through people
The infection spreads as one by one
They lose their heads and could
Care less if what they say
Is what they do,
Until cunning and deceitfulness
Are viewed as admirable traits
And promises and trust
Are worth no more than dust.
The only sure cure,
The only regimen to remedy
This insanitary state is
The Truth, plain and simple.