Magical thinking and Panto

Columbine and Harlequin

As a seven year old I danced the part of Columbine in a school panto, I have memories both of finding the masked Harlequin boy rather scary and choosing the material for the costume, white taffeta, with violet flower trimmings.

The fairly recent field of study into childhood memory has reported the improbability of adults being able to access memories of events prior to them being ‘age three, or few between three and six’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Childhood_memory

Some early childhood memories appear to me, partly tales we tell ourselves and part family rhetoric, often when I’ve read memoirs which include early childhood experience I’m struck by the amazing clarity of the author’s recall of events which they present as facts, mine are generally rather hazy, although I do have a fleeting image  of watching the Queens coronation, 1953, on a neighbours TV, I would have been three, another ‘event’ when aged 4/5, where I snapped the lovely pearl beaded  trim from a favourite dress, my recall of the material’s  colour, pattern and feel, seem clear, neither event huge traumatic incidents, why remember them, why now?

It is commonly thought that as you get older you recovery earlier memories in ‘detail’ whereas you can’t always remember what happened earlier in the day! Stress and depression also appear to negatively affect memory regardless of age.

Sadly some children experience trauma and abuse of an extreme nature during their tender years and the imprint on their mind, can not be denied, neither can its impact on their later emotional and mental outlook or recall, my brother traumatised in a number of ways from a very young age claimed to have pre and perinatal memory,  research indicates it may be possible,

http://birthpsychology.com/free-article/prenatal-memory-and-learning

My childhood, was far from helpful in aiding me flourish in several aspects of my development and well being,  one quirky thing about it was Mum discouraged me  reading many fairy stories, I had the impression she thought they were nonsense, her quest for ‘truth’ led her to over expose me to stories from scripture, portraying them as factual, some might argue these were equally as make believe as the former.  l went on to learn the traditional children’s stories at nursery and junior  school.

The  doctrinal beliefs  of mum’s religion used the Christmas celebration, with it’s ‘pagan’ trappings surrounding the  ‘real’ meaning. Jesus symbolic birth date, as a chance to distance themselves from mainstream religion.The magical gift giving personage of Santa Claus, was similarly considered nonsensical and fanciful.

People often feel sorry for kids raised in this way as though they ‘miss out’, however since they socialise with others who uphold the same beliefs they have a chance to feel ‘normal’, a lot depends also on how their parents promote the child’s self confidence and personal conviction, it aided me to have the courage not to be afraid  to be different, stand up for what I thought was right, I think that helped me to speak openly about my mental ‘breakdowns’ when they happened as an adult.

The mental and emotional sifting of ‘breakdown’ also enabled me to embrace some aspects of other belief systems and magical thinking. I had already, when I became a mum, re- discovered the the value of children’s stories and rhymes, things I had long forgotten, these returned sufficiently to sing or tell them to my daughter, bringing her up in a culture where little western literature was available,most of my story telling came from memory, she  loved the story of Cinderella. Although not considering myself part of any wave of Feminism, that story went against every grain of my  thought and experience as a woman. therefore I found it hard to relate it every night, on return to this country, pantomime proved an enjoyable and new adventure for us both. where else can you relieve pent up emotion in such a fun way? a good boo, hiss and stamping of feet I find very therapeutic.

Now of grandma age but not yet with the pleasure of grandchildren, I find myself drawn toward children’s stories and rhyme. Occasionally I child sit, it’s delightful seeing the youngster’s pleasure at reading books, watching fantasy film or playing  ’round and round the garden’ or similar games.

My patchy knowledge of fairy tales became apparent whilst writing a small ‘creative’ piece in which I described myself as an ice maiden, an after thought, perhaps I meant snow queen.

Snow Queen

I had the vague idea they both stood outside the stereotypical image of female characterisation, and that’s what I had intended, a brief look at Wikipedia clarified the difference of their characters……Ice Maiden – a comic book super heroine ‘her greatest ability is to become very cold and create ice armor in times of great stress. Her powers are closely linked to her mental state’, the Snow Queen is less altruistic and complex in her behaviour.

A few days later while visiting someone with an eight year old girl, the 2001 version of ‘Snow White: The Fairest of them all’,came on tv, the mum and grandma present were equally as enthralled as the kid, I was for a while. It didn’t seem to be true to the version I knew, it had a much darker interpretation  and seemed in dispersed with themes of the splintered mirror from the Snow Queen story, while it led me to read a little of the theme of Snow White and the seven dwarfs, I came across another completely different story about two girls, Red Rose, Snow White and one dwarf!

Rose Red and Snow White

These stories are frequently about the struggle between good and evil, within and without ourselves and happy endings abound, after all they are primarily for children, for whom magical thinking gives  a way of living in the land of  real giants, their parents. who at times are kind and gentle, at others harsh and shrill. Although professionals recognise such thinking as normal in childhood, if it continues in to adulthood it may receive diagnosis  and treatment and is even recorded in the DSM as a symptom of mental illness, where is the borderline between ‘abnormal’ magical thinking and fantasy? I think my fantastical ‘journeys’ keep me sane!

One pantomime without a happy end  in sight, is called the ‘Five Giants of Widsi’ who afflict the poor with all kind of want and illness, curtailed for a while by the good fairy, Well Fair, let loose again by the Mistress of the Thatched Palace on Thames, the Third Way Downing Labourers and the Three Boyes Poshe of Minstyre D’ytat, who use the elves, Pip and Esa of Credite de Universiale, to further tighten the belts of humble folks throughout their Kingdom,…. Boo, Hiss and Stamp!

A previous discussion in the comments area of this  blog touched on the theme of ‘the personal as political’, hopefully,  2013 will give scope for contributors to comment on the ways they combat  injustices which have affected their mental health and how they mange to generally keep well. I recommend a trip to the Panto, going as a large group often attracts good discounts.

Su.

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need someone to talk to?

Some years ago in a television documentary I watched David Smail, a former psychologist, speak about the nature of depression. David suggested that counselling or therapy might for some, be the only place they receive emotional comfort. I  found his acknowledgement of this comforting in itself as I’ve been drawn to the comfort talking therapy can bring. It has been a way of telling my story, at times I have felt ‘addicted’ to its comfort , David acknowledges this can be an outcome.

As a child there were times the adults who cared for me,  for a variety of reasons, were unavailable to me emotionally. In later life this led me in moments of distress for a quest to be heard. Though I mostly found sufficient resilience  to be my own  counsellor, listening to my inner voice, and this calmed me, at other times that voice became muffled, jumbled and distorted. On occasion this has transferred to my ability to do practical things, I got overwhelmed, confused, the simple tasks of daily life seemed very hard. During these times my experience of counselling or therapy has been predominantly helpful,  it has ‘held’ me, the process hasn’t always been comfortable or benign, there are many practitioners, former practitioners and clients of therapy/counselling who will attest to this.

Jeffrey Masson, former analyst, in his book ‘Against Therapy’ reveals that he is one such renegade; Dr.Dorothy Rowe, former psychologist, said of therapy, something along the lines of, “all therapy works, but not all therapy works completely”. Ken Wilber and John Rowan view differing  therapies as working on different levels of consciousness, for example they consider seeing a transpersonal therapist could be inappropriate if you have little or no awareness of this level of perception, by level I didn’t understand it as a superior awareness,  just different to ‘everyday’ consciousness. Fancy and mystifying terms, and buzz words abound in the therapeutic community, just as much as they do in other circles, but woe betide if in some therapies you question the theory behind it. Depending on the skill or the orientation of the practitioner this might be interpreted as symptomatic of your ‘problems’.

I have both self referred and requested professional referral to all kinds of practitioners, mostly it aided me regain some calm and it has helped me to become more fully the person I wish to be, but at times I’ve found it almost abusive. It can be a space, either in one to one, or groups where a power imbalance exists and is misused.

My quest in finding “someone to talk to…..a new hiding place”..(Dylan), has involved sharing with friends, or even casual acquaintances along the way. It has helped as they listen to parts of my story, and I try in turn to listen to theirs. Having someone reasonably capable of ‘walking’ alongside you as you relate your story, either  in bite size pieces or big chunks can be reassuring, if that is a friend, someone you trust and who has the capacity, well and good. You may be fortunate to get a professional listener who views themselves as a ‘co-experimenter’, as some Personal Construct Psychologists describe their role, but even then these processes can unleash things that are hard to contain.

Someone advised me against the process some years ago as we had both read ‘Against Therapy’ and I was awaiting an appointment for a  therapy ‘suitability’ assessment. In part the course of therapy that followed, left me with an emotional whoosh of feelings and little way of stemming their flow. It was a ‘breakdown’ possibly a breakup/breakthrough of the then current untenable situation I was in just  prior to it. I  ‘fell into the hands of psychiatry’ with the resulting medication and electro-convulsive therapy. I’m sure the therapist did not expect that as an outcome, neither did I. Most likely I would align myself with the Post Psychiatry movement because similarly to them I think medication can help distressed people, but the commercial interests which are behind  it, makes an over reliance on it suspect.

I would not want my experience to discourage anyone from engaging with counselling/therapy if they are drawn to it. It can be a courageous step to discovering what your distress is about. Like many things it takes time to adjust to the process, but trusting your feelings about the counsellor or the theory they use is important, becoming informed about the different approaches can help, part of my recovery came from the wisdom I gleaned from books about the process, and also from song and poetry.

Stanislov Grof refers to some forms of apparent mental illness of ease as spiritual emergence, he does however distinguish between this and  spiritual emergency and what he terms ‘real’ mental illness……I’m not sure about these distinctions, though I would describe some aspects of my breakdown as spiritual.

Sam Keen refers to tapping into anger that has been turned inward ….inrage/depression once accessed, acknowledged and released becoming ….out rage, for a time a torrent or flood engulfing someone or anything  that  gets in it’s path, no matter how significant their role has been in the person’s life story., …..it.gushes muddied for some time……until the water runs clearer,….possibly channeled in a different way.

Despite my reservations,and experiences…….why am I willing to engage yet again ,with the process? I ‘ve had an appointment this week. Something happened recently which sent me into that confusing emotional spin, I made the appointment to tell another piece of my story, and because I’d had some  autonomy in choosing, where, when, how long, it might be, it seemed the safest place to test the water, for telling the next installment. The time gap between making the appointment and its arrival, had been space to regain some equilibrium and therefore I felt some apprehension about attending, ….should I cancel? Though nervous I kept the appointment. The waiting area was such a warm welcoming space, in it was an original black leaded fire range, complete with it’s oven! One of my family homes had a similar range……I felt relaxed with the memories it elicited of the family events enacted in the glow and warmth of the open coal fire….the ‘counselling’ went well, and I was given a choice of possible ways of working…..flexible follow ups with the same person seemed the most appealing on this occasion.

Writing a blog has also been partly therapeutic, another way of telling bits of my story and is my voice on wellbeing.

Sue Margaret

* details of the fireplace image by the National Trust