THE UNBEARABLE HEAVINESS OF BEING

Stuart White 28-05-2021 9:30 AM


THE UNBEARABLE HEAVINESS OF BEING

For two weeks I have been filled with pessimism, dread, fear...you know, all those ugly states that play out in your head that make you want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head – an option that sadly (or fortunately) isn’t available to me. To be honest that’s not exactly true because if I wanted to stay in bed and hide from the world, I could muster up enough excuses to orchestrate a brief and unnoticeable disappearance but I choose not to. So I have been carrying on with my business with nobody observing anything out of the ordinary because I don’t always show how I am feeling.  I have mastered mechanically soldering on whilst devoid of ‘joie de vivre’. I see problems instead of opportunities, feel tired instead of energetic, experience fear where there is none and live under a fictional black cloud, maybe or maybe not, of my own making. I am sure you get the picture, a deep unhappiness with a glass half empty mindset, no drive to move, never mind put a best foot forward. 

The irony is not lost that two weeks ago I wrote an article on optimism and the willingness to embrace change.  Something had changed. My mood. And I was embracing it with as much enthusiasm as a cat having a bath. My depressions and anxiety don’t last long, but long enough to observe them, give them the title  ‘episode’ (as if my life were a television series) and observe and experience it with interest, albeit not at the time – I am doing that now. I am one of the luckier ones where visits of melancholy are infrequent, so it doesn’t feel disabling enough to cause harm and is wholly manageable, although I harbour fear of one day being trapped in an endless incident – a long-running soap, rather than a miniseries. It is a fear I dread more than getting cancer or losing a limb! As David Barlow penned “Anxiety kills relatively few people, but many more would welcome death as an alternative to the paralysis and suffering resulting from anxiety in its severe forms.” 

I find the shift in mood raises three questions; what happens to shift the mood from one state to another? What happens during the new state?  and What happens to change the mood back to, dare I say, normal? My mind will work overtime trying to figure out these answers by searching for reasons which trigger the change of state -  incidents experienced, specific thoughts I have had, concerns regarding my business or personal life? Because I am a problem solver, I like to try and fit the pieces of the puzzle together to create a picture that I can make sense of. I suppose that this is how an accountant feels when they need to balance the books.  Mostly in my case, though, it doesn’t always add up, because as a human being I am muddled and complicated and the sum of my parts don’t always add up to a perfect number. I may never fully understand why some people like me become depressed or anxious while others can clearly connect it to an experience in their life, such as a tragic loss, a violent event or a series of happenings.  Mine seems more nebulous but that doesn’t make it any less debilitating.

Prince Harry has been in the spotlight this week because of this subject, specifically for a podcast where he spoke about how to approach mental health issues, growing up with privilege and how healing it is to perform a service for someone. He talked of his time in the military, how it opened his eyes to the trauma people face around the world, and how much more important mental health is than physical health. It was powerful stuff, delivered eloquently. It’s a good piece of work which has great potential for helping people to understand mental health and for sufferers to rationalise for themselves that if a Prince with such privileges can also suffer from mental health and go on a show and be open about his struggles and the therapy, he has done, then it somehow exonerates me. That’s a critical outcome as two common feelings which suffers experience is shame and guilt because they feel they are weak and alone in their despair.

The British media can be ruthless and are having a field day with their Prince who fled his kingdom saying he wanted more privacy and a life less like the Truman Show yet has raised his public profile since moving to the US by making numerous appearances on the speaking circuit, Oprah Interview etc.  They are calling him the ginger whinger, unable to reconcile the private/publicity contradiction and are angry at his audacity to complain about, well, er... anything really. Every effort to find fault with what he says, inconsistencies in his memories and every utterance seems to be tabloid fodder. 

In my opinion the press are being grossly unfair. I think Harry’s experience of feeling watched and hounded all the time, the trauma of losing his mother and the obviously unusually cold family structure he grew up with after his mother’s death must have been extremely difficult and has definitely left scars. The way that he speaks of his experience is genuine and considered. The work he is doing to heal himself is commendable and is what many can learn from and gain encouragement. Harry may be able to do more for the mental health crusade than anyone before him - cometh the hour, cometh the man. There is little appreciation for this in the media who refer to him as ‘damaged’. Others are saying he has never been the smart one in the family and thank God he is not first in line to the throne. They are doing what society has done with mental health sufferers for years and that was to dismiss them by locking them away, ridicule or shame them. 

In the introduction to Prince Harry’s podcast, the host of the show says ““I am endlessly fascinated by the messiness of being human, and I find people who are vulnerable and honest about their struggles and shortcomings to be incredibly sexy”. She invites the listener to join her as she explores other people’s stories to celebrate, above all, the challenges and setbacks that ultimately lead to growth and betterment.” It’s a pity that not everyone can see it like that.

 

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