Robin Williams

Isn’t it predicatable? Celebrities live our lives for us. Belatedly, we discover they manage life’s challenges no better (or worse) than we ourselves. After Robin Williams’ death last week, there have been thousands of words published which probably get us no further in asking the most useful questions of ourselves.

In today’s Sunday Times, Camilla Cavendish – an Associate Editor – seems to base her article on Depression being ‘the last taboo’. As part of ‘mental illness’ it is a subject we can’t talk about. I would reply to her that of course it’s hard to talk about when all we try to do is define it, control it and wish it away.

She cites a fellow Journalist, Rachel Kelly, who has written about ‘beating’ her own depression. Presumably, it follows that Robin Williams was eventually ‘beaten’ by his. I suggest life sends us challenges not to ‘beat’ them, but to face and engage with them, in order to know ourselves better, day by day.

From all I’ve read about Robin Williams, he engaged with his challenges using an admirably quick wit. Good for him. It would be good if all of us used our talents to benefit others (in his case the audience) as well as ourselves. But it would be better still if we could view low, dark moods as part of our human experience, rather than seeking to eliminate it. Negotiate, don’t declare war!

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I’ve bought some fascinating bargains at Book Warehouse in Camden. This weekend, ‘Obesity – the biography’ from OUP. Again, it raises the question of when an aspect of a human being becomes a problem, rather than merely a part of them. My own understanding would be helped if I hadn’t forgotten the Imperial weight measurements which I learnt as a boy, without ever getting to grips with what the metric measurements mean.
As the author, Sander L Gilman, puts it, ‘Obesity clearly exists in the world;but how it is defined is culturally, not scientifically, limited and its centrality in the mental universe of any given individual is heavily dependent on the role of anxiety associate with it’. The history is illuminating, and parallels Jackson’s ‘History of Melancholia and Depression.’.
My conclusion in regard to these shifting attitudes to issues which become problems, is that each of us should tune into ourselves to get a clear sense of what we are happy with, and what meaning each aspect of our lives might hold.

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New Specs

New spec frames will cost less in Chicago than London. Which brings me to a good lens to look through. You can see every difficulty as an opportunity, not a problem. First, remember life brings difficulties. Start with small, everyday type. At customs, my thumbprint caused a small problem on the reader, and the official led me to a waiting room. ‘Youll only be 5 minutes, Sir’ he said. I was 20 minutes. Tired and thirsty I could’ve become annoyed and frustrated. But I had a look around, and waited. ‘We had a smooth flight, and there was an empty seat next to me’, so I a difficulty would arise somewhere. When they let me through, the ticket machine for the train into town wouldn’t accept my card for a 7-day ticket. None of the block of 6 machines was having it.
So, thoroughly held-up, I paid for a single journey.
It’s through obstacles such as these that I feel I’ve arrived somewhere different. Helps me empathise with tourists (and immigrants) in London.
it would’ve been less of an ARRIVAL had everything gone smoothly.

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Tidal Waves

Recent TV reminders of the power of the sea, along with a client’s feelings this morning on New Year Resolutions, led me to think. This time of year can bring our sense of direction (or not!) to the fore, but it is never the wrong time for reflection on the undercurrents that are shaping our lives, day by day. Acknowledging the power of our own choices, I think it’s also important we remember there is something way more powerful shaping things too – like the enormous, unfathomable combinations that cause destructive waves or tranquil seas.

Might it not be good to have a sense of what these powers are? So what were the themes in your life beyond the events of 2013? Prompting or reminders, maybe in dreams or coincidences? Ask not what happened, but what you ignored, which might have some value for you.

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Given my suspicion of psychiatric classification as diagnosis, I was interested to read today of two proposed new classifications. 3rd-class rail travel may be (re-)introduced, and a Class D may be added to the list for illegal drugs.
Somehow, we feel better when we’ve given something a name. I think it allows to feel less anxious, more certain. But remember that may be its main purpose. We won’t have added to our knowledge. The drug and the train carriage will be the same, as will the condition in the mind which is causing a person a problem. The new name (which may be changed again within a few years) may stop us thinking further about a subject

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Reparation or Replacement?

Just now, I read again the chapter on ‘The depressive Position’ in ‘Kleinian Theory – a contemporary Perspective’ (ed Bronstein 2001). A factor in the depressive position for Klein was the wish for reparation towards the objects we’ve damaged by our actions or neglect. 

At the same time, a torrent of hailstones had hammered the roof of my conservatory, and a pane cracked by the scaffolder had allowed in so much water the floor was awash, and an electric heater is probably ruined. Colin, the builder, came down immediately, and we talked about replacing the pain. Of course, I’m aware how he and I repaired our relationship after its shaky start. When he asked how long I’d lived here, I realised it’s a quarter century!

At the weekend Con repaired the leaking bathtap, which as I thought, only needed a washer. I asked him whether I should buy new taps – these may be 20 years old. But he said why do that, they still work. I think soon I might repair the whole roof, so I can rely on rainwater not coming through at any time of year. At the same time, I rather liked doing the ongoing repairs.

These days, with a new gold i-phone 5 just on the market, we are encouraged to REPLACE rather than REPAIR things, but what about the beauty in old things? What about the value in living with something for decades, even if it is a tap or a leaky roof? ‘Upgrading’ our possessions is to the advantage of manufacturers, and could give a brief dopamine boost through a positive word, but we may end up with something that needs wearing in, until we have a knowledge of its idiosyncracies and learn to love it.

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Betty Joseph

I’m marking the death of Betty Joseph, one of the Kleinian group of analysts, born in 1917, who died on 5th April 2013. Although she was very old when I met her at a book launch in 2011, I felt  privileged to be chatting to a woman who had been supervised by Melanie Klein in the 1950s. She was a living link to the ideas which have helped and influenced me so much.

Looking over what I could find online about her, two things are memorable: the first is how she offered to return her qualification as an analyst, because she felt she wasn’t ready to do the work; then in the transcript of an interview from 2006, she says she feels she only finally ‘got it’, ‘found my feet as an analyst’ in the 1970s  In the second, she says that practitioners have to face the truth about ourselves, ‘to be prepared to know what is going on, and how things are hitting you, because only that will enable you to face what’s going on in other people.’

betty joseph

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