I’m a bit broken and a bit messed up” – Darren Hayes on growing and accepting personal flaws

When reflecting on recurring schemes or patterns in your life, we’d often love to apply a very pragmatic approach: Something doesn’t work. We analyze it. We have an hypothesis. We fix it. Everything’s fine. Bad news is: Experience shows that it’s normally not that easy.

There are things that can be fixed, and other things that will probably follow us through the rest of our lives. There is a saying that even 20 years of psychotherapy won’t change a penguin into a giraffe. Obviously, you can recommend to the penguin that he might feel better leaving the ecosystem of giraffes in order to find something more comfortable for himself. But, nevertheless, both patients and therapists normally agree on a lesson learned by experience: By analyzing your patterns, you do not learn not to fall into the same hole over and over again. Normally, you just learn how to get out of it quicker and how to try to avoid it.

At first sight, this might seem a bit frustrating and disappointing. But actually, it’s not that bad, because in the moment we accept it, we feel the relief of not having to fight for change any more, and the sensation of a burden lifted can be enormous. Therefore, almost every form of therapy concentrates on two aspects: Acceptance and Change. Or, as my father used to tell me: If you can’t root out your neuroses, pour them some water.

To illustrate the point of acceptance, I’d like to quote one of my favourite Pop Singers, Darren Hayes.

2015-08-24 ttmabIn both, his career as the lead singer and songwriter of 90’s pop band Savage Garden and as a solo artist, Hayes used music and his lyrics to express feelings like alienation, solitude, anger, depression and longing. One of the first hits of his former band, To The Moon & Back told the story of an alienated lonely girl escaping herself in Science Fiction fantasies in order to express the wish to run from her bleak and desolate reality (which might even include an allusion to suicide). I have already mentioned Two Beds And A Coffee Machine, a song from Savage Garden’s second album Affirmation that describes a mother escaping from her home after experiencing domestic violence, caught between the responsibility to protect her children and the reality of not being able to provide them on her own. Especially his second solo record The Tension And The Spark dealt with many of these topics in a very blunt way: The lyrics to Unlovable illustrate how a recent rejection experience can reanimate 2015-08-24 ttatsold schemes of self-accusation, anger, aggression, shame, blame and self-hatred (You make me feel like my mother, she abandoned me / You make me feel like the act of love is empty / Am I so unlovable? / Is my heart unbreakable? / Do I remind you of a part of you that you despise?)

During the campaign of his third solo record This Delicate Thing We’ve Made, Darren consciously decided to disclose how his personal background and the way he grew up influenced him and caused a lot of these emotional turbulences:

“My whole career as a big commercial pop artist was fed through self-hatred, basically. It was all about escapism in a fraudulent way. I became a pop star because I knew I had to become something extraordinary to escape”.

If you trace a line through the work of both Savage Garden and Darren Hayes solo, there is a recurring theme of being unloved and unlovable. It is part of what connects him at his most popular to a mass audience. If Darren is a master at articulating the simple sentiment of what it feels like to be rejected, it does not come without its own poignant back-story.

Darren grew up in the working class suburbs of Australia’s Brisbane. In the early 80s, on the run from his Father’s violence and alcoholism he was just 10 when his Mother took him and his siblings to live in a caravan to escape regular scenes of violence. His relationship with his father has been both the making and undoing of Darren Hayes. His father having long since recovered and redeemed himself (sober for 25 years) – the childhood clearly left an indelible mark on Hayes. It was his need to please that propelled him to invent a life as a pop star. The fame came but could not fill an emotional hole.

(from the official promo biography 2007 written by Paul Flynn, source below)

In a blog interview during this promotional campaign, Hayes was asked about whether his view on these topics has changed thorough the years, and he gave some remarkable answers.

Do you feel that your prior concept of being “unloved and unlovable” is still a melancholic reality for you? I think there will always be a part of me that feels hideous. I am very lucky that I am in a really gorgeous relationship – I am loved by someone that just sees me for all my strengths and weaknesses and accepts me whole. I never thought I would find that, I always thought I would end up alone. (…). The fact that I can’t lie about my insecurities is my thing. I’m a bit broken and a bit messed up. Thankfully, I’ve worked out how to put one foot in front of the other one and get through life and smile.

What’s the symbolism behind the paper crane that features on the cover artwork? It seems complicated, but it’s not. It’s an album about relationships and how fragile we all are. The paper crane is a metaphor for being alive. When you unfold it, you can see all of the creases representing the scars and choices that we have made, whether they are good or bad. That’s our life, that’s what 2015-08-24 tdtwmmakes us who we are. The idea of This Delicate Thing We’ve Made is just my way of saying that everything that happens to us, creates us. Essentially you see a whole life unfold when you unwrap the bird. [Darren then begins to fold a paper crane for me.]



On Amy, the Development of Eating Disorders and the Influence of Societal Ideals of Beauty

In response to the recent press cycle around the promotion of the current movie biopic / documentary Amy about Amy Winehouse, both acclaimed and notorious music magazine Pitchfork and feminist-theory orientated film critics blog Btchflcks recently have published pieces on Winehouses life, her mental problems and the influence of the society on this. While especially the article on Pitchfork is pretty well researched concerning the general facts on eating disorders and while I really support its general criticism and questioning of societal beauty ideals, I still feel that it still stays a bit superficial on a.) what the problem is in eating disorders and b.) where they come from. Of course the rationale of saying that Amy Winehouse died of exhaustion means that she died from drug overuse and reduced calory intake means that she died from an eating disorder is true. But it doesn’t help to really understand the dynamic of a mental disorder and its roots.

Symptoms are not the roots of an illness (even if the standard definitions of disorders by symptoms, as practiced by the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD) and the APAs Diagnostic-Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), might suggest this idea). Symptoms represent a coping style for resolving an inner conflict, and usually they are the best possible way of coping that was availiable to the individual in the moment of crisis. That doesn’t mean that this is the best (or sanest, or most functional) way of coping. Just the best possible way availiable to the individual in the moment it needed a solution.

It’s like rain pouring down on a soil. The stress, the internal object relations, the negative ideas about other people and the self – all this is the rain. The most exciting question is: in which direction is the rain going to pave its way through the soil when it hits the ground? How is the structure of the soil – how will it give way to the rain forming a stream? In other words – in which external form will these internal conflicts find an expression, an outlet on the outside of the individual?

This evokes the question: How does it appear to a person (rationally or emotionally) to be a valid and helpful solution to stop eating? And how do societal ideals and values influence this idea? Why not become depressed? Why not an anxiety disorder? Why not other ways of expression?

As always, the possible answers to this questions are numerous again. Some ideas:

  • a genetical, epigenetic or neurophysiological disposition.
  • the significance of eating and food in the family (e.g. in conflicts of autonomy: „i won’t it what you serve me, because if I eat that, I’ll have to take in all the other stuff you’re giving me, too! And I’m not doing that any more!“).
  • the symbolic idea of wishing to disappear (shame!) and therefore reducing your physical appearance („I don’t want to be here any more!“).
  • the magical idea that not eating will serve you feeling a sense of autonomy, success, self-efficacy in a way you can’t feel these things in other contexts (which it actually does – but only in the short run).
  • AND – last but not least – societal ideals.

Societal ideals implicitly suggest and explicitly propose, that
being thin means being happy.
being thin means being disciplined, attractive, having a high social status, having a partner, receiving attention, being successful.
Sounds like a perfect remedy, doesn’t it?ED-3

There are a lot of routes in which societal norms and believes influence us: Via our upbringing and the beliefs of our parents (Route a), via social learning and feedback on our behaviour (Route d), etc. I want to especially highlight two other routes that might have an effect on developing an eating disorder. Route b.) directly influences the development of a low self image by comparison to others – do i fulfil the demands of the ideal? Am i good enough, is my body good enough? Is it my fault, if my body is good enough? Is this the reason why I am not happy?– and therefore constitutes a risk factor.

The second route (Route c.) is at the very point of trying to solve the internal conflicts. As the subconscious is looking for a form of expression, an outlet, as the dealing with the actual conflict appears overwhelming, it is influenced by all the factors mentioned above: genetical heritage, strengths and weaknesses, symbols in the family, but it also is influenced by the suggestion that society makes:
Maybe I can’t control certain interpersonal dynamics and fights and discussions in my family.
Maybe I can’t control symptoms of depression.
Certainly I can’t control what society thinks about the ideal female body.
But what I can control is – my body!

As a conclusion: Can societal norms be the reason for the development of an eating disorder? I would say no.
Can societal norms influence and contribute to the development, perpetuation and deterioration of an eating disorder? Absolutely, yes. Should these norms therefore not only be questioned, but criticised? Absolutely, yes.

I’m not trying to minimize or whitewash the influence there is – I still am convinced that as a man I can’t even fully grasp the excruciating effect the images of women, the concepts of beauty and the daily comparison to these societal rules and ideals have on girls an women. I am sure that this effect is very powerful and very dangerous and influences people on a daily basis. I’m just saying that in the context of Eating Disorders, it’s even more complicated. The problems people with depression, a low self-esteem, bad experiences in growing up or bonding have, are probably as old as humanity. The forms of expression of these conflicts are an appalling and alarming sign of our modern times.

2015-08-14 amy btbReturning to the case of Amy Winehouse, one can not only find the routes of influences of a society found above. The fact of her being a person of public interest, a star, in some ways depending in her job on the attention of the press make her (apart from her personal conditions) even more vulnerable to influences from society and/or press or public opinion. The Btchflck article points out very clearly in how far the greedy press (and public!) interest in the deterioration of Amy Winehouses condition had a devastating effect: Mainstream media loves to watch when a famous woman–Courtney Love, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan–breaks down in public. Btchflcks, who always have been mindblowing at identifying and analyzing cultural stereotypes and tropes (e.g. the Manic Pixie Dream Girl) also mention the myth of the depressed and mentally destroyed artist who actually needs the suffering in order to make great art, and if he/she succeeds in that, it’s even therapeutic. What kind of lesson does this idea teach to a young, confused, uprising musician, with an already conflicted background?

If one really wants to get to the root of societal influence on the development of mental disorders and the role of the media, one has to ask oneself, in how far the public interest in Amy Winehouse was responding to individual needs and desires. Society is not an isolated object. In how far did we create, maintain and reconstruct these societal ideas?

It’s not the press. The media. The society. It’s us! Who bought the records of Amy Winehouse? How did it happen that a song like Rehab, that celebrates the resistance of seeking professional treatment, became something like an anthem of independence? Who reads, even still now, the articles on the documentary, or comments on them in blog posts? How did we, the audience, and still do, repeat and corroborate the medial attention, the desire for information on an individual tragically suffering and dying from it? Aren’t Eating Disorders always associated with a certain sense of innocence, of innocent suffering, of the victim under the pressure of the society, images we all want to identify with?

We probably want to see people suffer, because we either identify with their suffering or we’re glad that even though we feel our inadequacies so strongly in our daily life, there are still people who are worse off than us – so hey! As Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) once put it in his song Road to Joy (sic!): Well I could have been a famous singer // If I had someone else’s voice // But failure’s always sounded better // Lets fuck it up boys, make some noise! And it raises the pretty awful question: Would we really would have been as interested in seeing a clean, mentally stable, self-empowered Amy Winehouse? And what does that say about ourselves?

Pitchfork: We Need to Talk About Amy Winehouse’s Eating Disorder and Its Role In Her Death

Btchflcks: ‘Amy’: Our Love Didn’t Do Her Any Favors

Tl, dnr: The post aims at distinguishing various ways in which societal beauty norms influence the development, perpetuation and deterioration of Eating Disoders. Pathways include model learning from parents, subtle suggestions from society about the effects of being thin and adapting to an ideal of beauty and social feedback on trying to stay thin.

Darren Hayes on Depression

As the people who know me will know, I always have a very soft spot for Darren Hayes, the former singer of 90’s Australian Pop (yes, with a capital P) Group Savage Garden.

Is it because one of his songs was the soundtrack to me falling in love for the first time, at the beginning of high school? (You know – this will always stay with you, deeply engraved in your DNA.)

Or was it the heartbreakingly devastating song he co-wrote about growing up in a family with an alcoholic father in an environment of domestic violence?

Or (as I’m still convinced today) his incredible way of putting emotional issues into words? Probably all of it.

Anyway, the man just posted an in-depth and honest essay on the effect of Major Depressive Disorder on the perceptions of your everyday affects and emotions, and also touches an the pro’s and con’s of antidepressant medication.

He delivers an authentic recount of the constant battle of dealing with a psychological condition on a daily basis, in both the short and the long term.

In addition, it also portrays the confusion and disorientation it causes when somebody realizes the disconnection of his self from his emotions – i.e. that his emotional reactions not only don’t work the way they usually do, but stopped responding to his will completely.

It’s definitely worth a read. You can find the whole essay here:

Former Savage Garden-frontman and now solo artist Darren Hayes wrote a candid Facebook Post about his experiences with depressive episodes, dealing with disconnection and the use of antidepressant medication.