What do you do, when you are at a girl friend’s house, but they are a friend you don’t know *that* well, and one of their male friends (you’ve never met before) becomes anxious and agitated, and tensely yells, “Oh should I just calm down? Should I just calm down? Should I just calm down?” while racing back and forth through the kitchen, from the hallway door to the porch door, before stopping at the porch door and banging their head against the door, hard, several times? And everyone is making hushing noises, and someone offers them a chair and calmingly touches their shoulder, but the guy violently strikes their hand away… and five minutes pass, and people resume chatting, trying to get things back to normal, and the event is glossed over, like nothing happened?
What do you do, when you’re staying with some family friends while travelling, and the 40-something sister of your host trips over a child’s toy on the floor, and picks it up and throws it across the room (it narrowly misses hitting the TV), and they cry, “People who can’t keep control of their kids shouldn’t be allowed to have kids!” and your host laughs it off with, “We’re lucky you’ve got terrible aim!” And you can see that, for the next hour, the distressed woman is not coping very well, but the event is glossed over, like this is a regular occurrence?
What do you do, when you start a new job, and a work colleague is preparing lunch with you in the office kitchen, and she confides that her ex-boyfriend is stalking her and hacking into her phone and email, but she can’t prove it, and you’ve heard that she says this to everyone when they’re new? And apparently the ex-boyfriend is really nice and stable, and had to break up with her because she is obsessive?
I don’t know. These are fictional scenarios, but there are people in my life who behave in similar ways, and nobody talks about it. Maybe it is an older generation thing (pretend that Uncle Francis didn’t sit through dinner looking comatose, not touching his food!) and maybe new generations will deal with this differently.
I asked a family member recently why we don’t talk about a particular person’s anxiety and antisocial behaviour. Why we don’t acknowledge it. Why, especially, we don’t acknowledge it when it happens. This family member didn’t really have an answer, except to say that the anxious person has had a rough life, and that their behaviour was more a weakness or character flaw rather than anything like my implication – mental illness. I argued, saying that they need professional help, and my relation disagreed, and said that I need to be compassionate about their weaknesses.
My boyfriend says (paraphrased): I think everyone is on a spectrum of mental illness, but most people are still functional within society, and we only notice the ones who are not. This makes sense to me. Brains aren’t an immaculate work of perfection; that’s not how nature works. Some people might have naturally higher levels of hormones (and other human-ingredients) that mean they have more stress, or more aggression; that they find it harder to form attachment; that their short-term memory isn’t fantastic. Just the way that my body might have an allergic reaction to certain sunscreens, my brain *must* have some parts that are healthier than others. I probably have eczema of the longterm memory, and a benign growth in my reasoning abilities.
Or… maybe, for some of these people, it’s a communication issue (or years and years of communication issues, and the accumulated fall-out from this.) If you don’t know how to healthily communicate what you are thinking and feeling, or if you aren’t in touch with what you think and feel, then I think you can easily develop a raft of problems; the superficial symptoms of these may be anxiety, exploding, reacting in a seemingly inappropriate way, behaving antisocially, and so on.
From MRIs and other brain analysis tools, we’ll be able to diagnose and understand more of what’s happening in the brain, and I hope this will help us talk about it more. I don’t know what will help us learn about healthy communication and confrontation, or how to be in touch with ourselves and what we think and feel. Like I said before, maybe it’s a generational thing: some of my peers talk openly about their mental health issues, diagnoses and treatments; and some are really trying to understand themselves better. Not a lot of people are talking about healthy self-expression, communication and confrontation, though. I would love to learn more about self-expression and communication, but I don’t know where to begin. As for healthy confrontation, I’m taking a Coursera course on arguments at the moment, which I’ll write more about later.