Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Three Little Pyrite Pigs

Pyrite is also known as fool's gold and the little pigs we all seem to fall foul of are far from little. In the fairytale wolf tries to invade the houses of three pigs. One house is made of straw and the wolf blows it away to get at the pig inside. The second pig makes his home out of sticks and the wolf succeeds by huffing and puffing in blowing that in too.  The third pig builds his home out of brick, but the wolf cannot huff and puff enough to succeed in demolishing a brick house, so the pig (or pigs, depending on which version of the story you go with) remain safe inside.

Wise Wolves

It's sometimes tricky using metaphors to explain things as the word pig has associations with greed and muck. So one analogy of this simple fairy tale might be that the wolf is a hero forcing the pigs to think more sensibly about what they want from life in order to be happy and safe. In such an interpretation it would be easy to view mental health teams as wolves with their nagging and eternal checks on every aspect of our existence until the time comes when their help is not required. 

No one likes to be analysed in such an intensive way, even if it is for our own well being. The process can and often does encourage us to blurt out everything and dwell on our nastiest memories and worst behaviours and this can result in new bad habits forming; much depends on how experienced the mental health practitioners are. If we are not careful we can become addicts to being ill as it is often easier than fighting the stigma, ignorance and prejudice of the rest of society. 

Luckily the days of ending up in a mental health hospital on anyone's hearsay are gone in the UK. It now takes three people to agree on any one person needing hospitalisation under the Mental Health Act of 1983. All have to be highly qualified. Once in hospital, it is likely to take a team of four or more people to get one patient well enough to return home. They usually include a psychiatrist, a GP (doctor), a psychologist, a Community Psychiatric Nurse and a Social Worker. Other medical staff can include nursing staff in the hospital and a variety of therapists or counsellors. All of them can seem as if they are the enemy with their prying questions which often get repeated by way of checking up on your progress.

Unfortunately there are still old school thinkers about among medical staff, but they are steadily decreasing in number thanks to brave sufferers that refuse to be spoken to as if they are already lobotomised. In all cases staff and patients must be able to 'click' for any treatment to work. Staff cannot help those that 'confess' what they are thinking, feeling or doing that might be at the root of the suffering. No one can, but much relies upon staff listening carefully and thoroughly to what any patient finds so distressing. It is interesting to note that the mentally ill are seldom unable to function at something. However, while we continue to live in a world where the mentally ill are largely unwelcome, few are given the chance to function in society at all.

Pyrite Pigs

For the purposes of this article the pigs are the addictions that we are all susceptible to. They are the behaviours of people rather than the people themselves and with aggressive marketing techniques forever bombarding us all it is little wonder that people become disturbed, confessed, stressed and anxious. They are not little pigs at all, they are huge as there is no escaping them in mainstream society for they govern just about every aspect of our lives. Rather than think of ourselves as pigs, we should be thinking in terms of a 'pig of a problem' to overcome.

According the latest thinking among the good guys and gals of psychiatry (i.e. those that actually listen and work with the mentally ill and not dictate to them), everyone is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and everyone is on the autistic scale too. It is just a matter of to what level and over what that can herald problems. One the best ways to illustrate this is to look at what we spend our money on.  

This little piggy is money

In the developed world we shop for our joys quite literally. Here’s a brief list of some of the things we spend our money on in order to reward ourselves to make our lives more comfortable, stimulating and of course pleasurable. 

Food, clothes and shoes, sports, games, crafts, books, specific interests (e.g. the history or mechanics), holidays, relaxation, alcohol, socialising, gambling, donating to charities, clubs and societies, business advice and events, illegal drugs, investments, cars, homes, tobacco, technology and the latest must have thing or experience.

Of these none of these treats are safe in excess.

People who do not have money or very little of it do not have those “cheer up” options. They will also seldom have much in the way of connections to support them by way of family, friends, neighbours or colleagues at work or indeed information with regard to support services which are already stretched. Hence we have all manner of charities and community initiatives to try to save those that would otherwise fall through the nets like a kind of holding pen for when professional support is freed up. It is debatable if it is enough while we remain in a recession especially when so many services have been whittled down to only offer crisis services. All support is also utterly pointless if people’s trust in the system has been betrayed, or if people do not or will not share what troubles them. In a recession, retail therapy is a high risk game to play if you do not stick to a manageable budget.

When any of us are depressed or low in mood our behaviours change to compensate us for being of low mood. Some will look for something to cheer themselves up (called the distraction technique in psychology). This can include an increase in our spending on items we find in shops and on sale on the internet, as well as an increase in our social and work activities. 

In moderation that is never anything to worry about, in excess it is.

This bigger piggy is power

It is surprising how few people even know or have thought of why people turn to alcohol and illegal drugs given how stressful the life can be at times. Put simply they do so to escape their sufferings without thinking about what it will end up costing them health wise, financially and socially with regard to stigma and prejudice. Thereby they end up reducing their chances of ever getting support exponentially. It is often the exact same behaviour that normal people engage in when they are having an off colour day but in excessive proportion; the difference is that that proportion is out of control. Some illegal drugs, such as cocaine can result in a person feeling invincible when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. When we turn to heavy weight drug abuse we are on the road to destroying everything good we already have.

Power can be addictive too. Those who have it generally fall into two distinct categories; philanthropists and do their best to give back to the community, and those who become so addicted to accumulating wealth that they become harmful to our societies and communities while becoming increasingly dissatisfied with everything around them. We often think of the latter as psychopaths or sociopaths but it isn’t the soul domain of the wealthy to be psychopaths. Not being permitted to care about anyone for long enough can result in even the poorest person not caring. Corporate psychopaths are by far the most damaging as they usually care so little that thousands suffer as a result of their business practices which can be brutal, vicious and dictatorial. 

There would be no need to place a cap on any income if it was law that businesses as well as individuals must give back to the community – punishment for failing to do so could be a cap on income and level of responsibility instead of what is currently and commonly the reverse. Surely we collectively have wit enough to make that happen without any need to totally ruin that person’s life forever. Make it compulsory for such people to see a psychologist and we would minimise the risk of millions suffering while and helping them at the same time.

In the middle of rich and poor we have the ordinary folk who get sucked into things they think they need in order to reach the upper echelons of society and who end up having to field the extremes of those at the top of tree and those who are poor, often destitute and above all desperate. Keeping up with the Joneses is a power game.

Everyone makes mistakes but when anyone is disallowed to function sufficiently it leads to resentment, deep unhappiness and ultimately huge problems for the individual, those who know them and for our societies. A maxim from the world of business and industry that is thankfully beginning to catch on is:

 “Look after the others and the others will take care of you”. 

It has been proved and is proving to work. Joseph Rowntree (look him up on Wikipedia) in the 19th century proved it by not only providing its labour force work, but also homes, education and access to basic health care.

This biggest piggy it the hardest piggy of all - relationships 

If the first pig is money and the second pig is power then the third pig is the hardest and toughest of all - relationships. 

As individuals all of us have a degree of responsibility to correct our own and group behaviours. None of us can do it alone, but together we might be able to make a far happier and fairer world. How and where do we even begin to start? Who and what do we start with?

We start by acknowledging our most basic of instincts is to survive as a species. In order to survive most of us are governed my the desire to have sex and sexual relationships can be the trickiest of all to get just right. Sexual relationships are so complicated that it warrants a separate article. Here though it is enough to note that impressing the person who is the target of our dreams often leads us to shop 'til we drop or push ourselves career wise. Some argue that having many sexual partners is the only way they can be happy, however while that may be fine for them it is seldom fine for all their sexual partners. Promiscuity often causes many long term damage. 

To get any relationship right requires consideration, communication that is clear and up to date and acknowledgement of everyone's right to be themselves. This applies within our social and work circles and most of all in our relationships with our families.

When it comes to relationships is it less a question of “Is it something you can change in that person”, more a question of "Am I being fair to that person?" when tensions run high. Then we need to think about “Do I want to do something about it, yes or no?” Therein lies the key. Do we? For without that desire to consider other people's needs and change for the better nothing can ever change for the better.

This is at the crux of mental health as no medical team on this planet can change anyone. We have to be resolute in wanting to ditch what makes us unhappy in the first place that is within ourselves rather than enter into blaming everyone else. If others are that damaging to you - leave. Get support to do so if you need to.

Next is to identify in precise and minute detail what it is that we want to change about ourselves, then what to and only afterwards comes the how, who to seek support from, when and so on. This process is the same whether we are trying to overcome difficulties in any type of relationship or emotional distress.

We will never stand a cat in hell’s chance to get the formula right while we are bickering and competing for attention or being in anyway emotional. We need to don our thinking hats first, however, often we need another outlet for our emotions first before our thinking hat can sit comfortably without pinching or giving us a headache. 

We need to communicate, calmly, clearly and coherently which sadly is not usually the domain of people who are desperate for help, but the first step toward helping anyone recover is to listen first to what isn’t or hasn’t worked isn’t it? That way we identify exactly what it is that needs sorting. When we are mentally well we are all capable of this. When we are concerned for others we do this whether we are well or not, so it follows that we could be doing this more of the time when we are ill. That little bit of difference can in the long run make the biggest difference of all.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” 

There is no person or section of society that is without risk to their mental well being. The latest thinking in mental health circles is that "We are all potentially a car crash waiting to happen.” To put it another way – life’s a lottery and instead of thinking why me, what we should be thinking is why shouldn’t it be me that suffers next? What am I doing to prevent this happening to me or my loved ones? We already do this with regard to many physical ailments, diseases and illnesses, but seldom stop to think about what we can do to prevent the most important organ in our bodies - our brains.

Our brains define who we are and they are the control centre for everything else. If we can master it to adopt a helpful attitude to combat whatever life may throw at us, then wouldn't we also be equipping ourselves to overcome whatever we perceive to be the worst happening? 

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