Wednesday, 16 May 2012

'Friends' or shallow vessels

Who or what is a friend? Is a friend someone you simply drink coffee with and discuss the weather and what you are going to buy to wear at dinner on Saturday night and then natter about how wonderful the kids are because a) they're not junkies and b) they are brilliant? Or is a friend the one who, notwithstanding some kind of unwritten 'loyalty' to a spouse, spills the beans to you about his or her bad and dangerous behaviours or infidelity? Is a friend someone who you really don't know so well but because of a conversation, he or she can empathise with you and call you and write and worry and stand you with good advice, even though you've really had little to do with them in the past?

And the really good friends. They are the ones who share their lives with you too. There is a discourse and a meeting of histories and experiences and you feel secure in the knowledge that because they have been through adversity, then they know almost implicitly what you are feeling. In order to give solace, you have to have been through experiences, both good and bad.

I remember when 'Zach' was so sick and I had few, if any, friends who made any kind of show of compassion. One friend did call occasionally and I remember, at the beginning, going out to eat dinner with her when Zach was first in hospital. I was utterly traumatised and didn't know which way to turn but she did, at least, suggest a meal and I did over years meet up with her a couple more times to talk and try to eat something when everything else appeared to be collapsing, like the proverbial pack of cards. 'Sam' was no 'rock' for me when all was in turmoil. He buried himself in work and in his personal life and shared little with me. He was great in providing financially and occasionally physically putting himself out to share the load but I took most of it on my shoulders because I was at home and 'had the time' as he says to me.

Other 'friends' presumably didn't know just how to converse with me. The whole thing was so remote for them that they couldn't find  the words. There are those who I had hitherto considered as friends who never once called  to find out how things were. You have to wonder about the make-up of people like this. Of course if I see them now, as I do sometimes, I look at them and then look away because they are not worth the mental energy.

Then there are those doggy friends who I met up with and who were interested in asking and were not embarrassed by my sadness or anger. I very much miss a friend who I walked with for years when we both had our dogs. She and I would walk the boggy Heath in all weathers, the dogs getting muddier and muddier in the winter or dustier and leafier in the summer and autumns. We counselled each other and felt far the better for it at the end of the trek.

There are the friends who you never considered close but who are there for you now. They offer you a shoulder, a listening ear and a bed if you feel that you can't take it any more. You didn't expect it of anyone and are amazed and astounded that such people exist. But in comparison there are the friends who are all about listening to you and giving you nothing of themselves so that you are speaking into a vacuum. The 'friend' who is fearful of breaking a 'confidence' and allowing you to suffer, is not a friend. Sometimes people have to be brave and break a taboo in order to protect someone more vulnerable than the one with whom they are 'friends' with. It's then that you know who your real friends are.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Modern technologies and those inherent dangers

What is it about Facebook that people feel the need to write about everything that happens to them? I don't quite understand what the pull is to jot down some mystery, wrapped in a riddle, in order to demonstrate how terrible/great/awful/amazing/terrifying - you get it - life is on a minute by minute basis. So you get shoved in the queue at the bus stop. 'Fuck!' you write. 'Shoved in the line. How I hate commuting...' Does it make for interesting reading? Then there's the other type of howl. 'fuck fuck fuck fuck... i hate them all...' Right. So what brought that about then? Sometimes it's downright scary. 'I want to kill myself' was what I read the other day. This was displayed beneath the name of an old, good friend. However, when confronted by these words by his mother and his worried friends, he admitted that no, it wasn't he who wrote them and he threw himself at his computer, desperate to discover who would have done such a thing.

And Twitter. What is it about Twitter? Who really, really, really wants to know what music you are listening to at whatever hour of the day it is or what book you're stuck into? Doesn't anyone have a private life any more? I suppose that depends on what you call a 'private life.' I guess that can mean anything. It used to be the case that people had their own thoughts that they shared with their alter-ego in the knowledge that actually it's not terribly interesting to know what someone else is thinking at a particular time. Are we all so bereft of individuality that we have to be incessantly au courant with what those we are following are doing with their lives? It's puerile. It's infantile. It's pathetic and immature. Political, environmental and news is of some interest but whether someone is enjoying Brighton pier with their kids or having a tattoo is as boring as hell.

Addiction to the new technologies brings dangers too. We think that it works for us but there are times when we can't control the output of the pods and pads and macs and androids. Life, love and marriage are put in danger. It's all there for us to see but who pays attention? Messaging is now phone sex. Titillating tit-bits are sent into the ether. It's not necessarily the recipient who will view these either. Something to bear in mind for those who are unable to keep their fingers from the key pads. Put the phones away and think before you commit. What's in writing, in whatever form it takes, cannot be discarded and binned so easily. 

On to a lighter note: There was finally some sun today. It manifested itself from behind the clouds a number of times and it was a delight to see it glinting on the new leaves that have suddenly appeared on the once naked branches outside. It was good to take a walk without the need for inner linings and an umbrella or a hat. It's still only May. There's plenty of time for warmer rays. Hopefully not before these special long, spring days are too far behind us.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

'Homeland' Why no realistic depiction of mania?

Just for once I wish that they would get it right. Just for once. They had every opportunity to get it right this time and, as per usual, they didn't. I'm talking about 'Homeland' here. There was a truly believable depiction of a breakdown leading to a manic episode. Beautifully acted by Claire Danes and this was well written and heartbreakingly depicted but then the screenwriters had to concertina belief into absurdity.

A manic episode in general takes time to evolve. It's certainly not going to be all-encompassing and then responding to medication in the space of five days! Lithium and anti-psychotics take weeks to produce the brain chemistry that absorbs the psychosis. Why couldn't they get that right? It's frustrating. For people who know so little about manic episodes, here was the perfect place. Is it laziness? Arrogance? Ignorance? What is it about film and tv that scriptwriters will never do the proper research?

Then the final lie: Electroconvulsive therapy. The Cuckoo's Nest. ECT. A treatment that is only now incorporated into treatment when everything else has failed. Carrie's character has functioned well on medication. She says that she goes to various meetings. She has a strong family where both her father (who also appears to be a sufferer with the disease) and her sister (a doctor) are fully supportive. This whole episode lasts five days. Then why does she need ECT? She states that she can't go on like this. But it's not even a week!

I know. I understand. This is tv. People have short attention spans. Ideas have to be encapsulated into a precis. But what could have been an outstanding demonstration for the unitiated into what is the most 'normal' depiction of a manic episode, leading to the suicidal depression, became a shlock-fest of an American soap. Lazy, complacent and shock-inducing rubbish.

I'm disappointed. I wonder how the Israeli version has dealt with Bipolar disorder. Per capita more Jews suffer this illness than other members of society. There's certainly a well of experience to draw from there. I hope it's more intelligent. Less pandering. Who needs to be left with visions of a young woman, shackled down to a gurney, IV line in place, rubber shoved between teeth to stop her from biting off her tongue and visions of the agony of the medically induced fit, just so that the viewer is enticed with a memo of the episode to come?'

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Boris bounces Livingstone. No to cynical anti-Semitism

At least Ken Livingstone didn't get in. Boris did. Almost one million Londoners voted for Ken though, either by first or second choice. This means that almost one million Londoners have no qualms in voting for someone who is blatently anti-Semitic. Makes you wonder, doesn't it? What a choice we have in our politicians. You enter the voting booth and hold your nose and vote for the one who you think would do the least damage. This appears to be a worldwide problem. No one with any integrity goes into politics. It's all lies and graft and greed and power. The coalition in the UK is losing voters by the bucketload. Nick Clegg's party is almost emasculated. Perhaps if there was no coalition, then things would be better? Who knows.

It's still grim. Colder than any other May that I can remember. Our enduring grey skies appear full of remorse and we expect a 'spring' frost tonight. The winds are heading down from the arctic. Streams that were dried out last month are now plentiful and the reservoirs are refilling. But the hosepipe ban, we are informed by those powers-that-be, will remain until December. Sunshine and blue skies seem like a long time ago. I know that they still exist and that people somewhere are sitting out under parasols and sunshades and enjoying long, alcoholic cocktails and barbequed steaks but my imagination is stymied. I think that the gloom has permeated my neurons and the dopamine is depleted. I'm looking forward to the tropics. To wearing summer dresses and sandals and holding my face up to the sun to feel its rays. It may rain but it will be warm rain and a tiny umbrella to keep the drops off my head will suffice. The palms will blow in the breezes and the smell of plantain and sugar cane and every imaginable tropical fruit will make me heady.

So I'm whiling away the days, waiting for the plane west, and watching 'Homeland.' It's an addictive series. Brilliantly conceived from the original Israeli format, 'Prisoners of War'. What's interesting is that Claire Danes plays a CIA intelligence analyst with a 'mood disorder.'  She can't divulge her mental health problems to the CIA, otherwise she wouldn't have her job. It's not as if anyone else in the CIA has mental health issues! So far, and I have one programme to go, there's been no actual real evidence of her problems, other than her not being able to go to a registered psychiatrist in order to have her meds prescribed but I understand that she goes into full-blown melt down in the last episode.
By comparison, and in keeping with the gray theme, I'm reading 'The Man the Gray Flannel Suit,'  published in 1955 by Sloan Wilson. In this somewhat pedestrian book our protagonist is offered a job with the head of an advertising agency who, somewhat surprisingly to him, has been contacted by a group of forward thinking doctors who wanted to publicise the 'too little public understanding of the whole question of mental illness.' The agency boss wished to make a name for himself by taking on this cause and Tom Rath was to assist him in this. Then, as now, Sloan Wilson pointed out that more hospital beds were occupied by the mentally ill than by cancer and heart patients. Our hero, however, is at a loss. It is a tainted idea. No one in  the advertising agency is enthused or energised by the concept of publicising the plight of the mentally ill.
I ask myself then, have we moved on much since the 50s? We can make programmes in which a character suffers from depression or a mood disorder. Viewers will accept that but the general stigma, as evidenced above in 'Homeland',  still persists. Carrie can't divulge to her employers that those blue pills are not for headaches but for psychosis. Her colleague is shocked that she is working for a government organisation while in the throes of mental illness.  How do you explain to the uninformed what exactly is psychosis? One can assume that there are most certainly many explanations for the description. One of these can apply to London: Is it not somehow psychotic that almost one million people feel safe in voting for a man to carry out the office of mayor of a major city who is a proven tax dodger, a lover of terrorists and an anti-Semite?