Filed under: Grief, Mental health | Tags: counselling, depression, DSM-5, grief, orphan, recovery
Some stories won’t ever stop being told. Funny, I watch this: BBC Three’s Growing Up Poor and I’m 16 all over again. Twelve years down the line and how the memories of the weekly queue in the Post Office with my benefit giro book in hand suddenly emerges from a murky recess. Another life I tell myself. But I still remember queuing alongside the pensioners and the unemployed, me 15, 16, 17, 18 years old. A freak, scary, tragic and alive. I can still feel the stares. This shit doesn’t fade. In those sad girls I see myself. No-one now would place me in the same category as them. But I know them.
Funny because I was thinking about grief and categorising grief and the DSM-5 and I had this rant all planned out. And then a relinquished memory re-appears and illustrates the work of grief. “Complicated grief”, “Prolonged grief disorder” could be labels for this form of pathology. Grief research has told me there is a need to refine diagnostic criteria in order for formal intervention. Grief doesn’t make sense. The grieving individual doesn’t understand what is happening so new names and forms emerge from the experts in order to “work through” and “deal” with emotions.
I don’t want to deal or work through. I still want to feel it all the time. I want to remember this. Recovery becomes a means to forget. But some things shouldn’t be forgotten. It is easy to forget, especially in a world where very little is given the time it requires to unfold. Even love. Even love we don’t give time to.
Feelings always tell the truth right? We just need someone to pick them out and arrange them for us in a pretty pattern. And then we can flick through the DSM-5, “Ah, yes major depressive disorder. That’s you”. They gave me anti-depressants too at 19. Oh and steriods and other stuff. A whole kaleidoscope of medication in the morning.
If only someone had given me the opening chapter of Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender then. It would have helped. Or someone saying “You’ll never get over it”. That would have helped.
I didn’t want boundaries on my grief thanks or names. It was mine, and it was all I had along with my £40 a week (or however much income support was then).
But naming gives the opportunity to take a chaotic state and squish it into an acceptable coherence. I don’t know what I’m going through so please tell me. I read the books, I did the counselling with the patronising tissue box and bland wall paintings, I did the psychotherapy group for three years. Searching for a form for the intangible to fit. A medicalised form, a form borne out of the current thinking in psychology, counselling, bereavement literature, self-help jargon. These currents change though. The language we use to describe grief changes. The DSM diagnostic criteria shifts continually. What was grief is now depression and so on. Feeling down and not sleeping for more than two weeks is a pathology these days (by this logic I must have been schizophrenic in India…).
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I want my mind or my personality to be shaped by a whim in ill-advised research. I’d much rather find my own means to articulate a sensation in my mind and body. That might not be through language. It might be hard to to find a medium that can escape the double-bind of counselling speak – autonomy through other peoples versions of autonomy. And of course these feelings can take ‘maladaptive’ forms (as said to me by a doctor many years ago). Maladaptive behaviours like eating disorders, anxiety attacks, and the like.
Behaviours adaptive or mal- seem to me to produce a similar false consciousness by accepting the obligation to deal with emotions by first labeling them problematic and then seeking means to remedy them. In the quick-fix to remedy a distance is formed when we seek remedies not of our own making. It fosters a false sense of self that is contrary to the maturing of a person who knows herself and contrary to our best visions of what it is to be a human being (paraphrasing Ian Hacking in Rewriting the Soul).
My sister and I often remark on how ‘well’ we turned out. We’re miraculous and impossible beings. That doesn’t mean I don’t flinch every time someone I know talks about how much they love their parents, or people ask me where my home is. But remember: there’s no use in talking to people who have a home. They have no idea what it’s like to seek safety in other people, for home to be wherever you lie your head.
Emotions are unwieldy and can be immature, why would we want it any other way. To borrow from Lauren Berlant: sometimes we need an impasse in our present to place those events that have not found a genre. Maybe there is nothing to figure out after all. Maybe all that is needed is just a space for unhappiness to lie.