We can be extremely thoughtless at times in the way we ‘abuse’ our language……..’I’m starving!’ – (you’re hungry)…..’I’m dying for a drink!’ – (you’re thirsty) ……..’I’m exhausted!’ – (you’re tired)….. ‘I’m freezing!’ – ( you’re really cold)……. ‘I’m going out of my mind’ – (you’re under pressure)……… however as we well know, there are millions of people who really are starving, thirsty, exhausted, freezing and under intolerable pressure……. and have no one to care or alleviate their situation. Addressing their bodily needs is one thing but what of matters of the mind?
When I was a child, adults would speak in hushed tones of those manifesting bizarre or out of character behaviour and shake their heads sadly and hopelessly at what seemed to be inevitable outcomes. I lived then in a tenement community which I know supported its members no matter what. There was more tea and sympathy available for neighbours then, despite rationing and hardship. The kettle would be filled and youngsters sent out to play as impromptu counselling commenced. People were able to sort out the good ‘listening ear’ from the ‘nosey parker’ and derive some comfort from the caring ‘voices of experience’. Family doctors in those days, did not have timers on their desks, a set of targets to reach or assorted boxes to tick, so an appointment took as long as it took.
Little was known about the specifics of mental disorders then. It wasn’t even recognised as a treatable illness. It was behaviour that had to be removed from the gaze of ‘normal’ society and hidden away in fearful places of despair. Just like sending a young offender among hardened criminals, many innocents were swallowed up in the purgatory that was supposed to be their salvation. Certain regimes worked for some but there was a stigma attached to the whole experience.
As a ‘little Catholic’ I found that ‘going to Confession’ was a daunting experience. I would go over and over ‘my list’ of misdemeanors with the number of times each was ‘committed’ so that I could escape from the ‘little box of darkness’ as fast as possible. My most ‘heinous’ sin would come at the end of the list so that at the last moment I could choose to leave it out or not. Now this depended a lot on the priest who was hearing my confession …… was he ‘a sermoniser’ was he just plain ‘crabbit’ or was he ‘a patient listener’……….. My procedure was much the same for the visit to the doctor and so the most significant concern would be manifest towards the end of the appointment, casting, therefore, a whole new light on the lesser symptoms discussed beforehand. This was when family doctors had time to listen, to hear what was really ‘on the patient’s mind‘ and perhaps even make the vital link to any physical symptoms. Holistic Medicine is about treating the whole person – body and mind …… the two are one in my book. What if that ‘heinous’ sin which I couldn’t confess to the priest was the root cause of my stomach upsets or my high blood pressure or my anorexia/obesity…… isn’t there anyone out there who can be trusted to hear me out and not be dismissive or judgemental?
So much has got in the way of the ‘tea and sympathy’ of old – most of it to do with technology which seems to be advancing a lot quicker than our minds are able to cope with. People have become obsessed with the ‘virtual world,’ with the need to keep up with the ‘McRobots’, with the urge to constantly remind their nine hundred plus ‘friends’ what wonderfully exciting lives they lead by posting yet another selfie of themselves in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket to announce they have now been vegan for six days! Hundreds respond with ‘likes’, others with superlative ‘comments’ which are yet further proof of ‘abuse’ of language ……. ‘fantastic! fabulous! amazing!absolutely gorgeous! best photo ever!.’……. give me strength! The stresses on those people who live mostly in the virtual world are, I imagine, anxieties mainly about confidence, self esteem and trust. To which of the nine hundred plus ‘friends’ would they choose to entrust their honest feelings, opinions or anxieties? Loving family members, clergy and doctors are the obvious ‘go to’ counsellors for many but over the past few decades our confidence in them has become somewhat eroded……. but we all need someone, don’t we?
Mental Health issues have been in the spotlight this week on the BBC and of course the need for money to implement necessary improvements and new programmes is being highlighted – and quite rightly. So, I feel I must ask : As with teaching and general practice, will all the money in the world thrown at this problem be the solution without the essential skills and proper training of the administering personnel? A resounding ‘No!’ is my answer to that. This is not just another box to be ticked. This is the health and well being of real people which is at risk. It matters…. and I mind….
I know, I know, I’m ‘not of this generation’ but I have my own personal network of real friends who enjoy real cups of tea and real sympathy and laughter. Yes, it has taken me almost a lifetime ‘to find’ them and I often wish that I could put my old head on younger shoulders for believe me I have learned a lot about people – learning that took place in the real world where facial expressions and body language, moods, responses and interaction with others could all be ‘read’ over time. Yes, I use the internet, ‘Twitter,’ and ‘Facebook’ but as far as the latter is concerned, I have actually met and spent time with all of my listed ‘friends’ – each one means or has meant something special to me throughout my life and I am happy to be in contact and share thoughts with them. Other close friends are ‘technophobes’ so we have a regular arrangement to meet, at least once every week, which, thank God, we have so far managed to do. These heartwarming, sometimes sad and reflective but always hilarious ‘therapy’ sessions are well worth the effort – and believe me it is an effort at times (a huge struggle for one) but we each get so much from our time together – as well as real hugs! So I would advise all you ‘youngsters’ out there – find the time, shut down the computer, close your tablet, switch off your phone, and find a real person… to listen to….. xoxoxo(!)
Little Mary went into the confessional to confess her ‘sins’. She was the last one in a long line of penitents. The class teacher stood close by to reassure her little treasures.
‘How many times, child…… how many times?’ The impatience of the holy man was beginning to reflect in his tone of voice. Silence. ‘D’you hear me !….. are you even there.?….how many times??!!
The teacher stage whispered through the door: ‘Just say three times!!’……. There was a little pause and then: ‘Three ones are three, three twos are six, three threes are nine, three fours are ……….’
I am led to believe the priest then exploded….. in Latin……..