I’ve listened to this government and the previous one repeatedly block, obfuscate and deny its way through one session of parliament after the next. If there is a problem with austerity it appears that this is only because the questioner or interviewer is misinformed, unaware of some statistic relating to another matter which occasionally sounds relevant but rarely ever is, or attacking ‘ordinary’ people. John Crace’s ‘Maybot‘ joke is so sinister because it is so mind-bogglingly true. She’s the prime minister!
Denial is so absorbing. A capacity to deny the truth expands in relation to a capacity to swallow it … and if I swallow the truth it becomes poisonous, as if it wants to eat its way out of me.
People with addiction problems rely on drink, drugs, food, exercise, work, money, sex, love, shopping, whatever they can find, to shore up their denial and avoid being accountable for what they have done, or think they have done. This government has become lost in Brexit so it, we, whoever, will forget about austerity. As the Brexit disaster plays out austerity re-enters conversations. Funny that.
It’s about lack of character. I can think of governments with less talented members. But this lot? Nobody will remember a member of the cabinet apart from, perhaps, Michael Gove, who becomes more memorable every day as he struggles with his conscience to square the lies he inflicted on us with their consequences.
If the government had more character – more characters in it – there would be less denial because there’d be more ego around … and ego does not like to look like a twit. This lot don’t care how stupid they look or sound. Their careers are bound up in Twitter.
I’m sitting in Pret listening to some kind of 80s mix of music, and realising that in the 1980s none of these tunes would have sat side by side like this: they’d have sat like a cat and a weasel. History without the necessary intensity … it happens all of the time. Disorder.
I was listening to Transmission, a piece of music by Joy Division, and as usual it sent a shiver through me. If I listen to Ceremony, by Joy Division becoming New Order, straight afterwards, then I shiver even more. Music in many ways kept me sane before I was 20. It gave me a shivering space where I could really feel something, and know that I’d felt it, when all the rest of everything seemed like a conveyer belt to narcolepsy. It kept me awake, sometimes all night; or when I was awake it helped me come down again. Nick Drake, although I can barely listen to him now, it’s too painful and too almost sincere. Thank God I kept clear of macho self-pity. There’s no hope in that.
I was thinking about whether or not psychotherapists care about people. Many don’t, I suppose. They’re rather introverted but they still seem every able to help other people become more themselves – which, in my mind, is all you can do.
But it strikes me that there is a difference between caring for people and looking after them. There’s a certain kind of psychotherapist I have often met who seems vey invested in something about who their client should be. These people don’t care. They look after people.
Looking after people, in the sense I am describing here, usually involves inhibiting them in ways that are not available for discussion. It’s often done secretly or coercively and has a relationship with what has become called ‘co-dependence’. In a way it treats them as mad while the person doing the ‘looking after’ is somehow removed from having to look into their motives with the help of someone else. We are not transparent to ourselves: never.
It doesn’t have to be like this. I might ‘look after’ myself, for example; but even in that there’s a sense I am somehow divorced from myself as I do this. I’m selfish to a point that might extend beyond reason.
Develop your outdoor-eye. That is, every day try and find something special: something you notice, a cat walking across the road in a particular way, a kind of a plant, or a part of a tree, or a strange bird in the sky, or a familiar little bird looking at you. Look into its eye. Life can’t happen without something special.
This is especially true if you’re stuck looking at a screen all day. Screens are predictable and demand your attention because of what you’ve been trained to expect … so look out of the window.
Buy good shoes, the best you can afford, and look after them.
Polarisation makes it easy to tell the news, I imagine: real or fake? But we must keep hold of ‘neither’. In neither lives the nuance which makes life beautiful, and it’s where we might find something approximating the truth. In neither I’ve found passion, glory and the truly sexy.
This reminds me of a conversation I had the other day. In neither we find what’s special. If we say neither then we have to ask: then where? And if we can’t honestly say real or fake (or whatever it is we decided to oppose) then where else do we go but the great unknown. Scary, but it’s a recipe for a life worth living, perhaps.
I remember a training session where a psychologist delighted in telling me how straightforward his conversations with his clients were. ‘Your psychoanalytic language is pretty hard to get to get to grips with, pretty hard to understand,’ the trainer told me.
I agreed. ‘But I don’t usually talk about it with my clients,’ I told him. He looked surprised and I realised the thing he’d decided to talk to me about was something he didn’t actually have any experience of. ‘Then what do you say to them?’ he asked. ‘I don’t know,’ I told him. ‘Whatever there is to say. I mean, do you know what you’re going to say to me next?’ Unfortunately he did. He decided to get back to training me and gave me and the rest of the class some psycho-educational material about shame.
As he went about his business I felt more and more disengaged. Listening to someone describe shame as if it is a financial commodity, a mineral or whatever, something that has limits and parameters that are easily put into words is a depressing experience.
I’m reminded about all of this because I recently saw a client for the first time and spent much of the time helping him find a way to describe how he felt that wasn’t circumscribed by the psycho-educational (psych-ed) material foisted on him by the treatment centre he’d spent some time at. We got there eventually: the two of us in a room talking about how things were, right then, as opposed to how they might be if we kept calling on the glossary of, in the case, addiction.
Psych-ed can be helpful. We all like to know something about how we feel what we feel, think what we think and do what we do. In my experience, though, it usually gets in the way of someone’s life feeling improved. Knowledge can feel powerful … but how powerful it is depends on your relationship with it. I know how parliament works, but I can’t, for example, stop Brexit. My knowledge of parliament possibly even makes me feel worse about it.
Psych-ed can split you off from yourself. Schiz-ed. An unhappy soul can become a tortured unhappy soul because facts can end up given you nothing more than insight. What might help more is to cope with not knowing.
I could launch into a list of reasons why I think psych-ed weighs in on the side of an unhealthy therapeutic relationship (beginning with how the therapist is the one who always knows best, and facts, psych-ed facts, become incontestable). I could suggest a way of understanding life that doesn’t rely on psychological, genetic or social models. I could confess to my horror at some of the philosophical and logical confusions I have seen in most forms of psych-ed, and how these arose from as a need to make the unknowable … knowable.
But I won’t say any more than that.
Everything in life needs to be contested, some things are beyond words until you get to poetry, and psychologists are very rarely ever poets.
Before you ask what something means find out what’s happening. A green light might mean you’re better off not standing in the middle of the road wondering what’s going on.
I was thinking about what Freud called The Death Drive after reading a book by Michael Eigen about Psychic Deadness. The last time I went on a roller-coaster I found the most intense moment was when my car reached its highest point, before it started to descend. That was years ago: I’m not one for that kind of thing. I like intensity but I don’t want the illusion I might die.
There’s a point you can push any kind of pleasure to, and your desire may try to lead you further, to have more of it, to have too much. That’s when the fun combusts, though. That’s when relationship ends, trouble begins, the machine catches fire … when the hunt for pleasure slips whatever might contain it and catastrophe beckons. Deadness lies ahead, ever pressing. Life doesn’t have the kind of rails and brakes a rollercoaster does if you take it beyond a certain point.
It’s all about love, I suppose. You need to be able to get angry to stop that descent. You need love and anger if you want to have intensity.