Thursday, February 6, 2014

On Ian Thorpe and the human condition.

Have you ever watched a child having a meltdown in the supermarket? Like, a full on collapse on the floor, because life is so hard when you can’t have a freddo, so they squeal and cry, and their face contorts and gets all red and blotchy, and snot bubbles out of their nose and they put their little fingers in their mouths  at the anguish and heartbreak of it all. Unable to give a name or reason to their emotions, it just all spills out in a massive public display of torment.

They are unable to say “Man, I am bitterly disappointed and angry that I can’t have chocolate, the fact that you rule everything I do frustrates me” But those feelings are there. 

The disappointment, the rage, the frustration and the torment. Children don’t know what these emotions are called or why they feel them, so they just collapse under the pressure of it all, releasing their emotions till you either give in, or the emotions are all released, and when exhausted, they become distracted by something else.

Have you ever seen another child watch someone else’s tantrum? 

They cannot look away, they unashamedly stare, like they have never seen anything as fascinating in their entire life. They watch with little brows furrowed, the facial expressions of the other child, the snot and the dribble streaming down the child’s agape mouth, they watch every balled fist and they study the red blotchy face of the child having the tantrum with a look of pure fascination and slight concern. You may see the child who is watching hold back an urge to reach out to the child having a tantrum.

In the kindergarten line yesterday, I saw a little girls lip begin to quiver, it soon turned into a wail, tears streaming, face red and blotchy. I saw my little girl walk up to her, a child she didn’t really know and amongst the excitement of big school, couldn’t remember the name of. 

I saw my daughter observe this crying little girls face for a moment as she wailed. My daughter studied her, with a look of fascination and concern at this little girl’s public anguish.  After a moment of taking her in, my daughter very gently placed her hand, in the hand of the crying child and just stood next to her while she cried.

My daughter didn’t offer words. She didn’t say that everything was going to be OK, or that your Mum will be back soon or pull yourself together, you're embarrassing yourself. She just held her hand while she cried and together they walked into the classroom.

We as adults give names to the feelings we understand. Anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, grief, happiness, euphoria, despair, joy, gratefulness, fear, distrust, surprise and shock. These are feelings that we all experience at one time or another in our lives.

Some of us though, as adults will have feelings that still have no name. 

Get someone who has ever experienced profound and extended clinical depression to describe what they are feeling and most can’t, because there is, as yet no language for these emotions. Watch a child release emotions they have no language, knowledge or reason for, and it is a little easier to understand.

To describe depression is difficult, as most of these emotions exist without plausible or logical reason, and we find it difficult to describe with language, things we do not understand.

Sadly, adults have learned to politely avert their eyes to the anguish of another person, emotions make us vulnerable and displaying them is deemed to be embarrassing on some level, a weakness. So the polite thing to do is to avert your eyes, pretend for the sake of the person experiencing the torment that everything is normal and nothing is happening. To stare with morbid fascination and study the face of someone releasing emotion would be considered rude, however we still want to stare. 

We still want to observe though, as though it was the most fascinating thing we have ever seen, so we do this politely. Through social media, tabloids and magazines.

We get to observe someone’s anguish without the normal social niceties that go along with actually having to physically observe the pain of another. Without feeling a primal need to reach out to that person. Their anguish becomes entertainment, because through a screen or in print, from the privacy of our own homes we don’t have to pretend that it isn’t fascinating. We become disconnected from the fact that someone is actually feeling this anguish, and we watch it all unfold.

It is fascinating because mental illness is the final taboo.

We were all very willing to hold the hand of Ian Thorpe when he was winning. When he was the pride of our pool and he made us all feel like privileged Australians, proud that we could produce so much talent. We did that from our lounge rooms, in the tabloids and in the magazines. Or maybe you didn't. Maybe you decided you didn't like Ian Thorpe based on what you had seen or read in the media.

Can you not stand beside Ian Thorpe and hold his hand while he is struggling? Admit you have no words that will bring comfort, or any language for his emotion. To commend him for seeking treatment for an illness that if left untreated can have catastrophic consequences. Admit that there are many of us that have combined medicines with less than ideal results? Or merely leave him be in the same privacy you expect when seeking medical treatment?

Can the media not simply stop exploiting and observing him like a side show, and instead use it as an opportunity to have a discussion about mental illness, to give it language that makes it less frightening, embarrassing, and taboo? If you take the time to understand mental illness you will realise that we are all mentally ill to some degree. It really is not that frightening.

 How privileged you are that you get to experience your human condition away from the spotlight. 

The breakdowns, the junkies, the people who lose and don't the baby weight, relationship demises and scandals. Most of the time, the truth about what actually happens is not interesting enough for print.

Think about this next time you smirk at an insensitive and grossly exaggerated headline, or click on a link that merely makes a fool of your ignorance and exploits your need to stare in fascination.

If five year olds can manage this. You can to.

That’s all I have to say about that.

30 Days of blogging with


bodyandfeetretreat said...

Very well said and kudos to your daughter for just being there for that little girl.
Have the best day !

sal said...

I love reading your blogs, thanks for posting this one.

Bee said...

Love this. Thanks for provoking thoughts of kindness only.

Lisa Lintern said...

I want to write that this post is 'brilliant'...or write something like 'well said'. But those words are hopeless. Honestly, this is a killer post on such an important topic.

Lisa Lintern said...

I am such a believer in 'anything is possible'. Life would be too boring if it wasn't. What a post to end the challenge. Let's do it again some time... xo

Quality over quantity said...

Please, stop blogging. Its like musicians who flood the music market with irrelevant songs, or directors who make movies and detract from the overall quality of movies out there by putting poor ones out. Please, stop for your own good.