So what’s new? Well, kind of same old same old really. It was funny getting to see the live show of We Are What We Overcome in Derby a few weeks ago – the launch of both the album by Matt McGuinness & The MLC and of Matt’s new book (which I’d been assisting with by proof/copyediting). In the show, especially at the beginning there’s a big section about how we don’t talk about our mental health, are reluctant to open up and share that kind of information. It’s also about our reluctance to engage with other people’s mental health. It’s encapsulated in the phrase, “I’m fine,” which covers a multitude of horrors with politeness and reserve. For a while I did think I was getting better at being open about what’s happening inside. Hell, I do a podcast for We Are What We Overcome where we talk about just that thing! And yet… I’m fine with a general discussion, or even a review of how I felt some time ago. But talking about the now? Nah.
There are two things going on here.
First, how my mood and interior life varies from day to day. I tend to live in the present, and often when I’m asked how I am, or when we meet up to record the podcast, I actually am “fine”. The ups and downs do average out, and I also find it extra brain stimulating to be with the boys and recording the podcast, so that actually kicks me out of any low mood state I was in, and I promptly forget about it. Knowing that the average probably is best described as ”OK” because I’m between some kind of semi-suicidal downer and hyper upbeat, but only focusing on that ignores the quite grim downtimes and the unnatural excitement of being hyper. I also often don’t remember that just a few days ago I wanted to cuts bit of my body and deeply wished that I didn’t exist. Maybe it’s a cognitive dissonance thing: it’s quite challenging to feel warm and chipper and simultaneously desire the end of everything. Or is it? It’s genuinely quite hard to focus on this stuff, but I also feel like I run on multiple tracks all at the same time, so I can be working intently, ignoring a deep wail from one of the other tracks, until I stop working of course, and then that scream track kicks in good and hard. Is it like that? I’m not sure. And I reckon that not being sure may well be a problem. When I’m down, and it’s been a rocky six weeks or so (I think), with a good tight cycle of two or three days really glum (no one uses “glum” enough) and a couple of days of basically fine, with maybe a hyper day thrown in for fun every week and half… when I’m down I am good at remembering that it will not always feel like this, that the sun will shine again, I shall rise from the bottom of the ocean, and many other metaphors will apply. That is the knowledge that keeps sharp things out of my skin, that makes me wait, no matter how bad I feel, because I do know that the clouds will part and I’ll be left sodden crawling onto the beach. Feeling grim has a hangover though, or is it whiplash? Jumping from one track to another, caught in the fast lane while still feeling slow. Not good for others either – it seems mercurial and unpredictable.
The second thing is that while I’m good at talking – it both runs in the family and is naturally present in my chosen artistic endeavours of improvisation – talking enables me to run circles around myself, and I’ve never found a way to force my words to breach my lips when I’m tongue-tied. There are some conversations I just cannot start, no matter how deeply I want to. That’s because I’ve forgotten how I prefer to express my inner states. That’s in writing. Here I can split off into as many differing fragments as I wish, endless brackets and qualifications – all the things I can’t do in person. Why? Because this is selfish, as a good exploration of the self ought to be. Talking to someone requires considering their needs, responses and reactions. Those are all very important things, but if someone’s reaction makes you quail away from what you were about to say, then you don’t get to say the thing you wanted or needed to say. By “you”, I mean “I”, obviously. I’m using the royal you…
So why now, I ask myself, why now am I returning to this habit of writing about how I feel. It’s because I’ve realised it’s been quite bad in here (at times – honestly, I’m often genuinely fine!) for a long time, but I hadn’t clicked how long that time has been. My sense of time passing is, um, poor, and everything feels like it has always been like this. But in fact it’s a little over ten years since I completed my last course of counselling, in which obviously everything was fixed. Alas no. It helped to resolve a bunch of things but didn’t fix the underlying troubled object which is me.
So: a renewed commitment to keeping myself together by forcing myself to think about how I am and how I feel. Mental health routines to accompany my physical health routines (which have been going quite well, thank you). As the book, album and podcast say: “we are what we overcome.” But if I don’t remember what I’ve overcome it’s unlikely I’m ever going to learn anything from it.
Let’s see how it goes. And as ever, sorry if you happen to have read this!
Speaking of the show, Matt and the gang are on tour and if you get a chance to see the show you should, or better yet make an opportunity to see the show. It’s warm, funny and uplifting while talking a lot about mental health and how we become the people we are. And the music is great. Check out the tour dates here.