Oh! My! God! I had the most intensely frustrating class this morning. Mental health – final class for the semester. Group presentations on issues in mental health. (deep breath, lily, deep breath).
As is probably obvious to you, dear reader, I am between 15 and 20 years older than most of my classmates. Now, given I worked in a girls’ school for 20 years and have a teenage daughter of my own, I get along well with younger people. I’m actually considered pretty laid back and nice. And I’ve gotten along well with my young classmates … until today.
I won’t bore you with all the details – just some (okay, most) – I can’t help myself, there’s still a little bit of me that’s seething. Two of the topics presented were postnatal depression and anorexia nervosa. Did you know that postnatal depression was really unknown until women like Brooke and Gwyneth let us know what it was like? And as for anorexia – there was no interest or attention given to that until that French model died.
Really? Is that so? We didn’t know? We weren’t able to express compassion, show care or develop an understanding about a serious illness until a celebrity – a person who is famous and rich because they’re pretty and have been in a few films – validated it for us. Ah! Now that someone famous has had it, we can see it, talk about it, understand it. Oh puhleeze! That kind of focus on celebrity leaves me nauseas.
Now, I’m not denying that by talking about, celebrities can broaden awareness and that’s a good thing. But part of me doesn’t think this is good enough. So, when asked for audience comments, I queried whether we – as a society – really need to consider an illness’s “selling point” as dependent upon the amount of celebrity attention it receives.
Are we honestly not able to think for ourselves? Notice when our friends or family members are suffering – remembering that 1 in 4 people will experience mental ill health at some stage in their lives? Learn something that doesn’t come out of a celebrity magazine? Emphathise with someone we KNOW, rather than someone who lives in a Hollywood mansion. How would it make an ill person feel, being isolated and judged for years until the – “wow! Gwyneth’s got it, so now we can be nice to crazy Aunty Elizabeth whose struggle we’ve ignored for years” moment!
The lecturers liked my point and expanded upon it – there was the potential for an interesting discussion on society’s values. However, several members of the class rolled their eyes. How else were people supposed to learn about things if celebrities didn’t tell us? Serious, that’s what they said.
I suggested there were a lot of really good resources out there for the lay person (i.e. not health professional) – if you watch the national broadcaster (ABC) or SBS or listen to public radio or read the good newspapers, or (god forbid) look it up on the internet you can read about this stuff regularly. There’s some really informed, sensitive, thought provoking conversation about these topics regularly. Conversations you can learn from.
At this point I was hooted down. And that’s when they drew the age card. ”Who listens to public radio? (add in raucous laughing) No one watches the national broadcaster. Newspapers are dead. You don’t get it because you’re from the older generation – that’s not how we do things now days. We don’t care about those things now!” (Don’t you love the collective “we” that I didn’t realise I wasn’t part of?!)
“I beg your pardon! Are you suggesting that to be informed and interested is out of date?”
“Yes!” shrieked a girl, “We’re shallow! Get over it!”
Serious. That’s what she said.
“Well, don’t you think that’s unacceptable – for our society to be so shallow? Don’t you think we should work to change that? Don’t you think people should care, even if there’s not someone famous suffering? People should be informed about the things that affect their neighbours, not just the people who appear on their televisions!”
“Honestly! If you think you can change this, then you are going to be a cranky and disappointed old woman for the rest of your life.”
Yep. Serious. That’s what she said.
I didn’t even mention the fact that people had been suffering from, caring for, and talking about postnatal depression and anorexia nervosa long before Ms. Paltrow and that french model came along. I was prepared to overlook my classmates’ blatant disregard of what came before them.
Anyway, suffice to say, I almost spat my teeth across the room I was so incensed.
By 2.30 – three and a half hours of unproductive muttering and stomping later – it was clear I needed something to calm my mind. So I printed off a pattern (the Tardis Shawl from Ravelry for Abby’s birthday), headed off to the knitting shop with plenty of time before school pickup, bought the yarn and needles I needed and found me a good tree. Close enough to school to hear the bell. Close enough to the fountain to hear the water tinkling. Where the cool breeze dragged in by the promised afternoon change could waft across my arms and hair. Bring me back to the moment at hand. Like a soft massage.
And I knitted. Only a few short rows. But oh, it was so effective. As soon as I made that slip knot, with the hank draped around my knees, I felt the hot, flustered breath leave my body and mind. I made stitches, I wrapped wool around the prettily painted wooden needles. I counted knits and purls.
I heard Celeste Waters (the writer) this morning (on that public radio that no one else listens to) say that when she feels vulnerable she puts on the Brandenburg Concertos and they’re better than any pill she could possibly take. Or Beethoven. Or Dickens. Or the Wind in the Willows. She thinks more people should try it.
I’m with Celeste. And I’d add knitting to her list of gentle therapies.
Just don’t tell the classmates – they wouldn’t get it :-)