A while back I watched a movie. I think my mum downloaded it and gave it to me but it might have been me that downloaded it. It is called It’s Kind of a Funny Story. IMDb’s tiny description says “A clinically depressed teenager gets a new start after he checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward”.
It may come as a complete shock to anyone reading this, but.. I really related to the movie. Like the kid in the movie there’s nothing especially wrong with me or my life.. it’s just not right. I think that is sometimes part of the problem in trying to express yourself and help other people to understand you – you can’t tell them what is wrong because there’s no specific thing you can say that explains why you feel the way you do. And in the absence of being able to name specific reasons why you might be depressed or anxious or paranoid, anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves or maybe with someone very close to them just can’t make the connections to understand how it really works. Maybe it’s vaguely comparable to the loss of a sense: colours and lights and sounds are still always there, in the world, but a blind or deaf person’s ability to interpret and respond to those stimuli is different than fully sighted or hearing people. Everything in my world is essentially the same as in anyone else’s world, but my ability to process and have the right reactions to things is impaired. And just like blind or deaf people have adaptations in their personal environment or habits that enable them to operate in the world even though it’s not designed to be easy for them, so do I do certain things differently to try to make it as easy and painless as possible for myself to continue to live a fairly normal existence. But no matter how good your guide dog is or what kind of changes you make, it still doesn’t change the basic problem that you can’t see. No matter how good your drugs are or your shrink or counsellor.. it doesn’t change the fact that underneath all of that, your brain does not always have the ‘right’ responses to various events.
So I think part of what I liked about the movie was that it showed other people struggling with things like I do. Not all necessarily with the same problems as me but people who had problems that are not easily explained like ‘I fell out of a tree and now I can’t walk’ or ‘I am blind’ where even if people don’t necessarily know how it feels to live with that, they do at least have some understanding as to how it affects you and how they can adjust their own interactions with you to make it easier. Someone might hold the door to assist when they see a person in a wheelchair coming, because it’s obviously awkward to try to open the door and operate the wheelchair at the same time. But when the problem is in the way you think and feel, it’s not as simple to say When you talk to me, it makes me feel hot and I get sweaty and there’s a pain near my heart and I feel like the inside of me is vibrating like a seismograph needle during a magnitude 8 earthquake, yeah, really, even though looking at the outside of me I appear perfectly still which is so strange when the rest is shaking and rattling that much, and all of those things make it hard for me to have clear and focused thoughts about the interaction you have initiated and what I am trying to do right now, and that makes me wonder if my mumbled or short or stilted answers make you think that I’m drunk or drugged or crazy or unfriendly or stupid or snobbish or maybe something else entirely and then that makes me feel bad because I am not trying to be rude or standoffish, and sad because I’m not unfriendly or impaired by alcohol or pharmaceuticals, and annoyed because it’s not fair of you to think that I am drunk/drugged/crazy/unfriendly/stupid/snobbish/other when it was your fault in the first place that I started feeling … this. And then so very sad again because I realise that it’s not really your fault, because talking to people is what (most) people do and you don’t realise that it makes me feel like that.. because the problem is my reactions, not your stimulus.
When I have a string of bad days where that feeling is there more than it’s not, it becomes harder and harder to stay hopeful and cognisant that it will pass and I will feel better. It’s a type of exponential slope, and the further I slide down, the steeper the ground I have to climb to get back to the top. Or near the top, because I don’t ever really get to the top. Occasionally, I leap high and fly for a few minutes, gliding far above the ground hand in hand with my love and from up there everything looks so small and it becomes hard to understand and remember how I am always pushing, pushing in an uphill direction when I am on the ground – partly because from that far up you can barely even tell that the ground is inclined.
Having flown, I gain more energy to climb further, I get closer to the magical top of the mountain. For a while, it is easier to keep hold of the terribly steep ground that it is so easy to slip downwards on. I remember that I can get past bad days and I can be hopeful and I feel that maybe I am not actually a terrible mother and wife and daughter and person. Being hopeful and believing that I can keep going through to something better is one of the most important things I need to have. It’s quite cruel that the miswired parts in my mind that make me feel the bad things also rob me of the ability to maintain that hopeful belief. When I have a cold I know that I’ll be better in a few days or a week. When I have a Bad Head Day I feel like I will never ever have a Good Head Day again and the Bad Head Days are so black and gloomy and terrible that I might as well not even bother having them either.
The people in the psych ward in the movie all know that each of them is there because for some reason they can’t quite deal with the outside the way people are supposed to be able to. And because they know that other people are climbing the same mountain, fighting the same battles, they’re able to be empathetic without being pitying, supportive without having to understand. The mere knowledge that other people struggle and other people try gives them more hope and more energy to push off their fears and doubts that are holding them back.
This scene, where they are having some kind of group therapy which involves music, is so representative of that thought to me. They can’t really play instruments, they can’t really sing like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, but knowing that everyone has doubts and fears equalises them and lets them just do it. It lets them dream that they are the best, most confident, talented, unafraid, outgoing versions of themselves. And the song that they’re singing has some very thoughtful lyrics. I have always liked Queen, but after I watched this movie, Under Pressure has become one of my favourite of their songs because it reminds me of this scene and this HOPE and that I’m not the only one who must climb uphill all the time.
Pressure pushing down on me
Pressing down on you no man ask for
It may push down on me but it’s not only me. And no one wants to feel this way, but generally, people do keep fighting.
It’s the terror of knowing
What the world is about
Sometimes one of the worst things is knowing that I’m not supposed to feel how I do. Knowing that so many seemingly simple tasks really are simple for lots of people and don’t cause them to feel scared, worried, panicked, unworthy, inadequate. So then: why me?
Chippin’ around – kick my brains around the floor
These are the days it never rains but it pours
Bad Head Days are like rain. Lots of Bad Head Days in a row are like .. summer in Queensland where it pours, continuously. And there’s no break and the water threatens to flood and there’s a serious risk of drowning.
Pray tomorrow – gets me higher high high
Remember that hope. Remember that tomorrow I will be higher up the mountain and the flood waters will be receding.
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
It never really makes sense. Why do I have to keep climbing and falling, climbing and falling, the same struggles over and over again. Can’t I just climb up and stay up? If I’m just going to fall down again, why bother climbing up?
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance
Why can’t we give love that one more chance
And loves dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
You bother because.. maybe this time I will stay up without falling back down. Because I’ll never get the chance for that if I don’t try. Because there are people who care about me who have invested time and effort and love in helping me to get up and stay up and I don’t want to be undeserving of that. Because I’ve had glimpses of what it might be like to live at the top all the time and not reaching out for that would be much worse than getting there for a bit and then slipping down again. Because time is not infinite and as long as I keep trying I will keep having Good Head Days that make it worthwhile. Because this is the only life I get, and that’s such an amazing gift that I am obligated to myself to try to live it as happily as I can.