On one of the seasonal social media memes going around.
It reads something like this:
“For everyone struggling with grief or unhappiness, especially at this time of year, Some thoughts as we enter the holiday season. It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas.
Some people are not surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. For many it is their first Christmas without a particular loved one and many others lost loved ones at Christmas. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness.
We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. Please support all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. Samaritans are there for everyone 24/7 every day of the year if you need someone to talk to call free 116123.”
Five years ago I wrote this blogpost about past Xmas’s in Cambridge. The ones in my most distant memories – the ones of the mid-1980s feel like from a completely different world to the one we’re living in now. Now, I wrote that blogpost prior to my mental health crisis of 2012 – the one that left me in a state unable to function as normal to the extent of being able to work in a full time job. If it had been as simple as taking a six month breather from everything before heading back into the world of work – most likely London again, I would have done. Ages ago. But my latest 10 minute GP appointment has again left me none-the-wiser about what my long term prognosis is.
But when someone does step up to look after you…
The first person who really stuck by me when my mental health was really debilitating me was Tim Fitches during the late 1990s. He doesn’t know this yet, but he was the only person who accompanied me in nights out to meet other friends from college in town. Prior to that, just the prospect of going out was a non-starter. He’d call round, we’d head into town and he’d make sure I got back safely. How do you even begin to repay that debt of gratitude to someone who enabled you to step outside of your front door? And this was in the days before the medical profession and the political world was even talking about mental health in a way that we perhaps take for granted today.
“‘Tis the season to be jolly!”
To which my initial emotional response to such sentiment is normally :“No! Feck-off! Leave me alone!” The problem with that is such sentiment gets reciprocated if you start telling people where to go – which is why hiding away from it all is the easiest response. It uses up far fewer mental health spoons that way – something that can be put to much better use for some other activity…such as making community videos!
But…there was a problem while I was filming the footage – one that the camera could never pick up: although I met lots of people, spoke to lots of people and filmed lots of people, what I didn’t tell anyone at the time was just how disconnected I felt to what was happening around me. Yet at the same time I ploughed on even though in my heart of hearts I wanted either to go home and cry (even though the last time I cried about anything was in…2005, and before that 1996, and before that 1993), or just to have someone embrace me and make it all better. (In the end I did neither – I had to stick around due to a rehearsal later that day).
The other thing I was mindful of is that the Mill Road Winter Fair videos are also a useful marker of how much I’ve progressed with video making over that previous year. One of the ways I dealt with it on interviewing was picking out for interview those people that looked the most friendliest and who I felt would have the most energising effect on camera. (Hence having to hold my tongue when said people backed out and suggested someone else on basis of things like seniority in the organisation who all too often had neither the confidence, presence and general ‘aura’ to come across well on camera. When it comes to stuff like this, video can be brutal).
At the same time though, as far as video medleys go, the Mill Road 2016 video is the best one I have produced for a very long time. The two big differences of note being:
- Filming from radically different angles – note the ‘filming from above’ effect stemming from holding a light, extended tripod up in the air, making it look like I am filming from 3m above the subject.
- Synchronising dance moves with the background music – which requires some music literacy to get that right.
Yet if I want to get more out of it for 2017, I’m going to need a different approach – one that feels fulfilling to me but perhaps more importantly one where the interviewees have more of a sense of control rather than just me rocking up.
Being carried over the line by your collective
One of the things that happens in the run up to any big stage performance is the intensity of rehearsals ramps up. We had about five in seven days for the gig at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Oh, and if you missed that one, we’re back on 10 Feb at the same venue for the launch of the brilliant e-Luminate festival 2017. It was in the final dress rehearsal that in our small quartet piece – our cover of Glam by Dimie Cat that my mind went blank. How could I just ‘forget everything’ knowing that 48 hours later we’d have to face 1,000 people at the Corn Exchange?
A snapshot of what being carried over the line looks like
The above screenshot is from part of one FB exchange shortly after I had got back in an exhausted sulk. Again, what people didn’t know was how close I was to pulling out of the whole thing that evening. I was originally 50/50 about doing the small group piece, being wracked with internal self-doubt anyway following my spell in hospital and the inconclusive outcome. But I also didn’t want to turn down Andrea again on a small group piece. Often you need other people’s belief to push/bridge you over the gaps (or in my case, chasms) of self-doubt.
It was Lisa (part of our quartet, in the final comment above) who seeded the idea that the performance was ‘ours’ rather than just four of us singing someone else’s track. In that short, intense space you get to know people much better than even in a terms-worth of short rehearsals. Interestingly that important bonding happens in the breaks between the sessions – just as happens at work conferences.
“It’s good to talk, but it’s also good to do other things together as well”
The message doing the rounds up top talks about giving support to those who need it. But what does that support realistically look like? Also, bear in mind at this time of year, people have enough burdens on them without needing more. That said, some of those burdens are self-inflicted…
“What do you mean you haven’t got anymore home-made organic cranberry sauce?!?! Don’t you realise you’ve just ruined Christmas?!?!?”
It almost makes me tempted to stand by a customer services desk with a smartphone and record any pompous customers going off on one and then getting it featured in Angry People in Local Newspapers who are currently running a ‘Christmas is ruined’ series.
‘Support’ will mean different things to different people. For some it’ll mean popping round to check everything’s alright. For others it might be the opposite -getting them out of the house. In the month of December I like being involved in something big and special – something that we have to work together over a period of time towards a specific event. In my dancing days it was the annual Christmas balls – up to 200 of us taking over the Burgess Hall in St Ives.
“But…don’t you want to talk about things?”
The way I see it is the stuff I need to get out of my system is very long-term deep seated stuff that should only be handled by people trained to deal with it – counsellors. The reason being it requires detailed follow-ups. It’s a hell of a burden being on the receiving end of such exchanges, and I don’t blame anyone from my distant past effectively saying ‘this is too much’. One of the reasons why I’m much more cautious now about ‘mind-dumping’ on anyone. I’ve lost too many good people & potential long term friendships from my life in years gone by. The best counsellor I ever had took six months to get to one of the roots of my then deep-seated unhappiness back in 2002-03. (Hence why the short 6-12 week stints through my GP don’t work – it’s not nearly long enough before everything is cut short. And even then they push you towards a type of counselling (CBT) which is not suitable for everyone).
More generally, the support that makes a difference for/to me is being involved in things that mean people don’t have to go particularly out of their way for me. A sort of ‘Oh, Antony might be interested as well – shall we drop him a line?’ sort of thing as opposed to blocking out time in a diary for coffees & catch-ups, much as I do appreciate them. At the same time, it also means cutting a little bit of slack when things get tough with mental health – as inevitably happens. The worst bit is wanting to be out and about with people but not being able to because you’ve run out of spoons. I’ve lost count the number of times this has happened.
Looking to 2017, my take is if it doesn’t involve me internalising bad stuff or getting all intense about what’s wrong with politics, and involves movement or music it’s probably a good thing.
Above: I’m getting this one made for Puffles sometime soon.