Friday, 31 August 2018

The Happiness Equation

I am the queen of judgement. Give me anything or anyone, no matter how perfect, and I will find their issues and rip them to shit. I am cynical, angry and stuck too far up my own arse to forgive others for their minor flaws. In short, I can be a monumental bitch.

Conversely, I am always analysing everything everyone does, reading a novel in every word they say. It's not that I expect there to be something more in what people say so much as I cannot help but see that hidden meaning, if it is there. I am always astounded by just how blind some can be to what others are actually saying. 

Being judgemental and being sensitive do not go particularly well together: on the one hand, I can find myself actively despising someone for being any number of unacceptable things whilst, on the other, I feel desperately sorry for them and want nothing more than to help them. It's a paradox of my own creation and not one that I am particularly proud of.

In recent times, I have been exposed to some serious moronage. We're talking the highest level of people being unbelievably unreasonable, astoundingly cruel and, sometimes, downright ridiculous yet, in every case, I've been confronted with the very difficult, honest truth about where that person is coming from and, ultimately, why they behave as they do. It's the self-hate, the anxiety or the historically induced lack of trust in others. It's the fear that noone actually likes them, the panic induced by not knowing when friends plan to be around or the assumption that every human on the planet has negative intentions. And, ultimately, all of that turns into aggression, excessive control or false assumptions that all lead to destroyed relationships. 

I have said before that I would struggle to name anyone I know who I consider to be mentally stable. Everyone is in some way broken, corrupted by life or even just neurochemicals. And, of course, corruption of the mind leads to corrupted behaviour. 

One of my past RE teachers used to defend those who seem to force their religion on others, arguing that, if one truly believed that they had found the most important, powerful thing in the universe, they would naturally feel strongly compelled to share it. In the same way, happy people have an innate desire to see those they care about feeling happy, being successful and enjoying life. It's a very simple equation: happy people generate happiness.

As such, those who act in jealous, bitter or cruel ways cannot possibly be happy because, if they were, they would not feel the need to go to such unpleasant lengths just to get their kicks. Destruction comes only from the vulnerable and the broken.

So, whilst I would win the Olympic gold for judging others, I am slowly learning to remind myself that, behind every unpleasant act is a lifetime of unpleasant experiences that have led to the person behaving in that way. If only we could all be just a little more patient, accepting and kind, we might slowly encourage one another to act in more trusting, sympathetic ways. 

Happiness might not make the world go round but it sure can change it for the better. 

Monday, 27 August 2018

Feeding the Problem

I have always been something of a self-confessed moron: I am irrational, rarely admit I am wrong and am overly passionate about things that, to many, seem beyond trivial. I hold decade-long grudges, barf words without considering their implications and possess only a vague awareness of consequence. In short, I am something of a mammoth dick. 

Yet, over time, I am slowly learning to become less dickish and somewhere closer to just imperfect. The truth is, people get things wrong all day every day, from small errors in their mental maths to significant errors of judgement and, the second we start judging them for every little mistake, life becomes really rather tiresome. 

In reality, forgiveness does not benefit the person who wronged us anywhere near as much as it benefits us: the mistreated, the angered, the hurt. When we forgive someone, what we are really saying is that their mistake no longer matters to us; it is not worthy of our time, energy or emotion. Forgiveness is, therefore, rather freeing because it relieves us of the hassle of committing to feeling aggrieved. 

More than this, though, forgiveness is the ultimate saviour of all relationships and, without it, we'd all find ourselves feeling really, rather lonely. Human beings are, absolutely always, without exception, flawed and the second we get angry about that, the second we lose out on friendships and relationships that may well have been very worthy of our time. Refusing to forgive someone of a mistake or imperfection can sometimes, therefore, be as harmful as stabbing oneself in the gut, for all the harm it can do to us.

I find forgiveness very hard. There are occasions in life where arguments or problems do not get resolved, either because neither party could be bothered to fix it or because one person does not tell the other than something is wrong. Such occasions usually lead to both people going their separate ways and forgetting it ever happened. Sadly, my memory is flawless and I cannot forget. I sit here now recalling arguments I had in primary school, aged just 5 or 6, and can feel the heavy bubbles of resentment rising in my chest. I know that, if I bumped into those people now, they would have no memory of any tiffs we had but I do and, despite the fact that they have been in no way significant to my life, I still feel a little riled by them. 

Over time, I have observed various other reasons why people find forgiveness to be a tricky commitment. The most significant of these is that, sometimes, people just don't leave room for an apology.

Picture it, person A is having a really bad day and person B says one, tiny, insignificant thing to pee them off. A says nothing but goes home and thinks about it that night. The thing B said doesn't seem great enough to justify the scale of A's annoyance, so they start thinking of everything B has ever done that in any way irritated them. Suddenly, A has a list: a list of reasons why B is a really shit friend. A does not share this annoyance with B but simply meets them every day with a pre-existing feeling of agitation and analyses everything B does in the hope that there will be other things to justify the ongoing negative mood. Eventually, person A can't even remember what person B did that was so wrong, just that they've convinced themselves they no longer like B and thus, the relationship is over.

Dear God people! 

In this example, B did not, really, do anything wrong but A, after a few months, is unerringly certain that B is a shit person of criminal proportions. If A had simply bothered to tell B what was wrong, it could have been fixed, the annoyance numbed and everyone would have moved on. Because A chose to allow their feelings to escalate to a point where they could not justify them, they had to seek problems to use as evidence for their problems, thus, essentially, making problems that did not exist rather than just forgiving B for a tiny mistake.

The same, really, applies to bigger mistakes too. Every so often, a friend will do something that really sucks, from not being there for you to a small betrayal. If the friendship is worth anything, the person who has been hurt would of course seek to convey their upset in the hope that it would not happen again, the friendship would improve and trust could be restored. In not bothering to communicate their upset, what the wronged person is actually saying is that the friendship is not worth enough to them to go to the effort of allowing their friend to seek forgiveness. At this point, the person who has been wronged is a far worse friend.

My point is this: refusing to even contemplate the idea of forgiving someone will always, always, always make the problem drastically worse. It adds as much fuel to the fire in your belly as it does to the issue itself, making it harder and harder to resolve as time goes on. If any relationship is worth anything to you, it is absolutely worth trying to fix things that go wrong and a person who is unwilling to do so was clearly never invested in the relationship in the first place.

More than anything, though, forgiveness helps to restore one's relationship with themselves and for that, it is surely worth giving it a go. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The Road to Serenity

We live in a hectic, disorientating, ever-changing world and it is most certainly not changing for the better. We carry our jobs, family, friends and every person we have ever met on little devices in our pockets. We work long hours then take more work home with us. We force our bodies away from their natural rhythms, screwing with our sleep and eating patterns in order to be more productive. In short, we do just about everything we can to push our minds to the max. 

There was once a time where stressors were huge, life-and-death problems that were easy to measure and avoid. We only have to look at the different stresses faced by children over time to see this. In the war, children had to worry about not dying: about making it to the air raid shelter in time and hoping that their families and loved ones did the same. If that happened, tick, they were successful in avoiding bad things. Although the risk is great, the stress is not as horrific as one might expect.

Compare that to today's children: grades, bullying, pressure to achieve everything ever, pressure to look right, pressure to act right. In the grand scheme of things, none of these pressures kill - a bad grade will not, on its own, end a person's life. But, when added together, the pressures become disorientating, frightening, even, and assessing the priorities in one's life becomes a complicated task. 

Image sourced from here.

We have come, as a society, to expect far, far too much from ourselves. We demand the highest, most intense level of engagement with everything and view rest as a task for the weak. Sadly, no living thing is designed to endure such a complex existence and our brains are only able to manage and be productive with a maximum amount of information for a maximum amount of time. As such, it really is no wonder that the nation's mental health is deteriorating faster than we are able to fix it. 

This is not to say that we cannot begin to take control of some things for ourselves though and, obvious though they might seem, there are several small differences people can make to their lives which, given time, will make a difference. 

For one, ditching the technology - as far as possible - is a grand step in the right direction for preserving good mental health. Legislation covers worker's rights and necessitates that all employees are granted sufficient rest time between periods of work. Home time spent sending emails, writing presentations or planning work is not suitable rest. Work outside of the employment setting is a requirement of most jobs but there absolutely has to be a limit: if working too many hours disrupts your sleep or leaves you no time for anything other than work, it is absolutely damaging to your health and well-being. Some might respond to that with the observation that the real world is not like that

Here's how the real world works: if you prioritise your job over time spent with friends, family or even just yourself, you will die early. Your life will be stressful, whether you recognise it or not, and your health poor. Life does not have to be that complicated. 

Technology is not just guilty of bringing work home. It adds literal meaning to the term 'baggage'. We no longer simply carry around our purse, keys and a bottle of hand sanitizer in our pockets: we lug every argument we've ever had, every person we've ever met and everything going on in their lives at any given time. We drag around all of the things that make us miserable, the seemingly perfect lives and the gym selfies, in aid of somehow "feeling connected". And, in all this, we actually lose connections because the feeling that we know what is going on in other people's lives tricks us into thinking we are maintaining relationships that we are, in actual fact, not. If your phone is your life, your life is probably, deep down, really rather miserable. You are allowed to step away from the entire world every once in a while and just focus on what is going on in your life, right now. 

This, in itself, is another big deal when it comes to leading a calmer life: so many people are intent on being part of everything. They go to every event, travel to every place, meet every person and, whilst that is almost certainly a sign of a life well-lived, it is not necessary to throw 100% at everything, all of the time. 

People need rest. They need to time to just sit and listen to the sound of the rain. They need time to lie still or wear their comfiest clothes or eat crap and do nothing all day. My point is, the more a person sprints around, trying to fit everything they possibly can into limited time, the more detached they become from everything they see and do because life because less about them - how they think and feel - and more about the world as something separate. In order to limit stress and find that sense of calmness so many of us have become alien to, it is necessary to take time out to just slow down and recognise oneself. 

At the same time, our environment does make a huge difference to how we feel. People create messy places for all kinds of reasons but calm spaces tend to be clean, tidy and, as such, better for our health. It is not so much that a tidy house equals a tidy mind so much as it reminds us to do things properly and deal with things in the way that they ought to be. 

Some might read this and accuse me of being really rather patronising, as though all the solutions to our mental health crises lie in turning off our phones and tidying our rooms. I am not, for one minute, suggesting that anything is ever that simple. What I am suggesting, however, is that life is quite complicated enough and if, just once in a while, we could remember to dumb those complications, we might just find ourselves in a better position to deal with ourselves. 

Everyone deserves to be happy and nothing, not technology or work or any other seemingly important matter, should be allowed to get in the way of that happiness. 

Monday, 20 August 2018

"It's my life" and other lies...

Working in primary schools involves as much interaction with parents as it does with children. Over the years, I've come to one, very clear conclusion: parents are morons.

I am not, generally, a complete human-hater and yet, I find myself wondering just what happens to the brain once successful breeding has taken place? Does it implode, spontaneously combust or just slip out the nose, never to be seen again? One thing is certain: parents are the most irrational, absurd group of people I have ever had the displeasure to work with.

On the face of it, all those darling mummies and daddies really do is make my job considerably harder than it needs to be. They periodically barge through the door, demanding to know every intrinsic detail about their child's day, accusing all of their brat's victims of being, in fact, the bully and impolitely requesting that we break just about every rule to make an exception for their talentless spawn. How such beautiful children come from such psychopaths is a source of great bafflement for me. 

All this is, to some degree, understandable. Who else is going to worship a child unconditionally, if not their parents? Who else has time to listen to their every, last complaint and do something about them? And, to the unsuspecting mother or father, if their child comes home crying, then what the pumpkin says happened most certainly did. Thus, I can just - just - about manage to forgive parents for telling me how to do my job, so long as I remind myself that they're knackered, clueless and, generally, well-meaning.

Sadly, there's a different breed of parent surfacing: a colony of selfish, ignorant and, frankly, appalling parents who have tainted various aspects of my life since I, myself, was in school.

Before I continue, I would just like to make it very clear that, for the most part, I do not believe in judging parents. It truly is the hardest, most enduring job in the world and quite pressured enough without the imposition of external judgement.

But yes, there is such a thing as bad parenting and I have seen its effects unfurl over several years. I am not just talking about abusive, drunken or even neglectful parenting: I am talking about the subtle, but persistent wrong-doings of a small bunch of people for whom child-bearing is just one of many things they want to tick off on their bucket lists.

When I was at school, there were kids on clear, explicit self-destruct mode whose parents were completely unaware. If I missed so much as a snack, my mum would have known so, to me, the knowledge that someone could go an entire week without eating and go unnoticed was really rather baffling: the mother of the girl I am currently picturing was a social worker who regularly delivered parenting classes - the irony. 

I have friends who, in their early twenties, have sought various diagnoses themselves having spent their entire lives depressed, anxious and terrified of life. When asked by medics or assessors about their childhoods, there are some really shocking things that, to any parent with half a brain cell, should have been a cause for investigation and concern. The parents who ignored or did not care about those very obvious red flags must be in some way responsible for the destruction that followed. 

And now, I see people having children, only to miss every, single second of their lives. They dump them in breakfast club at 8am, pick them up from after-school club at 6pm, leave their kids in holiday clubs throughout school breaks and still call themselves a parent. They bugger off on holidays without their children and make little or not contact with them in that time.

There are so many things that infuriate me about this. In the first instance, I cannot imagine wanting to disappear off to the other side of the world without my child - were an emergency to happen, the child could be dead before the parent has so much as managed to book their flight home. And I cannot fathom how any parent could possibly enjoy the time away from their child.

Some of these parents then swoop their children up upon their return, crying into them and professing to have missed them dearly, as though the luxury holiday was a torture inflicted on them, rather than a well-planned choice.

And, through all this, the children really, really do suffer. Their whole demeanor changes whilst their parents are away. In some cases, this is a miracle in itself, given that their parents are so busy going out with friends that there's nothing to really miss. But, on a sadder note, it is the children who are so frequently abandoned who are at increased risk of experiencing mental health problems and the parents abandoning their children who stand little or no chance of picking up on the all-important signs.

I've seen mothers shake with tears, saying they "had no idea" that their child was self-harming, starving themselves or wanted to die. How could they possibly expect to know?! They are literally never present to know.

The spark for this article was a post shared on facebook about a mother who had been criticised by others for working. Her response was "it's my life."




As someone who spent most of their time at college acting as parent to various people hurting, starving or attempting to kill themselves; as someone who dries the tears of children who desperately miss their parents; as a psychologist with a more than sufficient understanding of child development and mental health, I would like to make one thing very, very clear:

The second you have a child, this is no longer your life. What you want no longer matters. That holiday you go on in your life corrupts your child. That job you work 8-6 means that I know your child better than you do and they're on-track to end up in CAMHs. Those endless nights drinking and going to dinner with friends are the perfect opportunity for your son or daughter to do whatever they like to themselves and, little tip, it 'aint throwing a house party.

Children need their parents' time. They deserve it. Anyone who believes that their right to a holiday, a career or, even, a night at the pub, is more important than their child's well-being - or, indeed, is content to repeatedly leave their child - should not parent. What's the point? You don't see them anyway?

Children are not a box for you to tick. They are not toys for you to show-off to your friends then ditch on someone else. They exist to be loved and cared for and if you cannot do that, do not have children.