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.]

Sources:

Dolor fantasma – De llevar luto

(Este texto ya está mas o menos viejo, lo escribí hace seis años. Ni siquiera, aun me gusta, y por eso lo desempolvé y edité un poco para volver a publicarlo).

Estoy seguro que probablemente hay tantas formas de llevar luto como existen personas en el mundo. Siguen algunas formas que me gustan por sus caracteristicas simbólicas.

El primer ejemplo es Dr. Izzie Stevens, la cirujana en practica de Grey’s Anatomy, que, después de la muerte de su novio (que sufrió de un corazon defecto), se negó de desvestirse de su vestido de boda y simplemente se acostó en el suelo del baño para llevar luto. Cada persona que quisó intentar de hablar con ella para saber como estaba tenía que acostarse también en el suelo del baño para estar capaz de hablar con ella y ver su cara.
Por las otras historias en la telenovela no se puede verificar con seguriudad, cuanto tiempo de veras pasa allá élla. Pero ya solo preguntar esta pregunta de “cuanto tiempo” toma el punto de vista de personas afuera del proceso, con una actitud de continuar, pensar en el futuro, vivir/ SEGUIR adelante. Por el contrario, la posición de ella esencialmente consiste del hecho de que, para ella, los relojes, los horarios – el tiempo! – han parados en el momento en que él murió. El momento en el cual ha empezado el proceso de ella de poco a poco, paso a paso darse cuenta de lo que ha pasado, en toda su grandeza, importancia, gravedad y en sus consecuencias.

2015-08-19 eluunEn un proceso similar se encuentra Thomas Schell en el libro fantástico Tan fuerte, tan cerca del escritor estadounidense Jonathan Safran Foer, después de perder el amor de su vida bajo circunstancias desconocidas. En su vida cotidiana después se da cuenta que en su comunicación con otras personas, poco a poco pierde más y más palabras, cuales, solo así, ya no está capaz de usar, por su pesa emocional y por los acuerdos conectados. Asi al final se le deja tatuar solo si y no en los lados adentros de sus manos y luego solo se comunica por si y no o por frases escritos en un libro blanco que siempre le acompaña. En algún momento se le acaban las hojas y el se queda en silencio. La pérdida de su querida mujer le dejó literalmente sin palabras.
Unos años después, su hijo, llevando luto por la muerte trágica de su padre en el ataque de las torres gemelas de 9/11, se imagina como sería si cada persona tendría un micrófono para reoporducir el sonido de su de su corazón pulsando. Y además, más al rato también juega con la idea de una piscina para colectar el agua de todas las lágrimas en New York City.
También en éstas ideas para invenciones se manifesta su solicitud de establecer el luto en la vida cotidiana, de construir un lugar fijo en la realidad para expresar las emociones y la tristeza en voz alta, de vivirlas en lugar de nada más seguir como antes, funcionar o distraerse, por saber que eso no es una opción de que el se siente capaz.

2015-08-19 leichtigkeitseinTeresa en La insoportable levedad del ser de Milan Kundera quiere terminar con la pesa del cinísmo de su madre de ver a las personas como iguales, insignificantes y vulgares, por ponerse enfrente de un espejo para encontrar su alma en su propia reflección. Su idea de la conexión de cuerpo y alma es la de un barco, y en momentos importantes depende del equipo del barco, si se presenta en el puente del barco o no. Así que en esos momentos Teresa pide desesperadamente, que o el equipo se presente o que se esconda, dependiente de la situación individuál.

En Garden State, una comedia estadounidense, el protagonista se enfrente con su juventud, su relación dificil con sus padres y su historia clínica de tener depressión y tratamiento por sentirse culpable por la muerte de su mama, que, de hecho, fue un accidente. (La película está famosa entre Indie-Nerds, porque el cáracter de la excellente Natalie Portman le invita al protagonista a escuchar a su música por sus audífonos con las palabras: DEBES escuchar a eso – son los Shins ! 2015-08-19 gardenstateÉsta canción cambiará tu vida !…, y si uno pertenece al grupo de personas, que opinan que no se puede sobreestimar el efecto de cierta musica a la vida, a uno le encanta esta película ya solamente por incluír ésta línea.) La película termina con una escena clásica del aeropuerto, en la cual el protagonista se decide salir del avión en que apenas entró, para quedar con su amor, y no dejarla. Pero gracias a Dios! la película no termina tan clichee, cursi y calculable con el Happy End, sino que con la pareja enfrente uno del otro, muy confuso y con la línea: “Y ahora? Que hacemos? Que deberíamos hacer ?!”

En la anatomía clínica se habla del fenónemo de dolor fantoma cuando un paciente que perdió una de sus extremidades (un brazo, una pierna…) en un accidente o por una amputación, aún siente dolor de la extremidad (que no puede ser, porque la extremidad ya está amputada…). Supuestamente la parte correspondiente del córtex motor del cerebro aún tiene una actividad electrica para la extremidad que ya no está parte del cuerpo, y por esa actividad electrica se explica las sensaciones del dolor fantoma. Aún duele lo que ya no está.

Todos sabemos muy bien y estamos muy conscientes del hecho de que al final del día, en algún momento todo eso terminará con dejarlo ir.

Let go. Loslassen.

Pues, pero aún no.

there’s beauty in the breakdown (Frou Frou – Let Go)

porque somos tambien lo que hemos perdido (Amores Perros)

Tl; dnr: Llevar luto es un proceso que necesita su tiempo sin saber cuanto durará. En ese tiempo vulnerable e intenso existe la oportunidad de conocernos más a nosotros mismos, aunque doliera mucho.

Fuentes (imagenes):

  • Jonathan Safran Foer – Extrem laut und unglaublich nah. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2007.
  • Milan Kundera – Die unerträgliche Leichtigkeit des Seins. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1992.

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.

Aprox. 40% of war zone-escaping asylum-seekers suffer from PTSD

According to data from the German Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, about 40% of the asylum-seekers entering Germany suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The prevalence of this condition stems from the experience of a huge number of stressful and traumatic events they experienced a.) in their homeland, under the conditions of war, violence, poverty and various kinds of deprivation and b.) during their flight to a safer country, including harassment, stigmatization and persecution.

Commemorating the World Refugees Day on June 20th, that was installed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2001, the Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists released a press statement demanding amends in the treatment of refugees seeking asylum in Germany.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the few mental disorders where the influence of an external life event by definition is a causal (or etiological) factor for developing the disorder. Symptoms include hyperarousal, hyper-vigilance, impaired memories of the traumatic event while at the same time experiencing intrusive memories of certain aspects, to the point of full-blown flashbacks.

Eptsd beitragsbild2tiological models of PTSD state that the intensified neurobiological stress reaction during the traumatic situation impairs the encoding of episodic memory aspects, which later on leads to an impaired memory recall. As a result, in certain situations affected people aren’t able to distinguish between the memory of the past traumatic event and the perception of a present situation. When triggered, they repeatedly feel caught in the perception of an immediately impending thread, just as it was during their traumatic experience, again and again during their everyday life. This means that even when these people escaped the lifethreatening situations they experienced, the terror of fearing for their life stays in their minds, not just as a memory, but as actually present.

As the research of Neuner and colleagues shows, there is a strong connection between the number of experienced traumatic event types and the development of PTSD symptoms. In a sample of West Nile Refugees, they found that while 23% people reporting three or less traumatic events types developed an PTSD, it was 100% of the people who reported 28 or more traumatic event types showed the symptoms of the disorder. Therefore they conclude: (…) if the cumulative exposure to traumatic events is high enough, these results indicate that anybody will develop chronic PTSD. We conclude that there is no ultimate resilience to traumatic stress (…). In other words: The development of this mental illness for these people does not depend on any individual factors as their growing up or mental state. At some point, experiencing too many of these kind of situations WILL lead to the onset of this illness.

These findings are of high relevance especially in the context of refugees escaping from war zones, as they are most probable to have been exposed to a variety of different types of traumatic events (violence, persecution, witnessing of killed or dying people, assaults, rape, and others).

Sources & further literature:

Gäbel, U., Ruf., M., Schauer, M., Odenwald, M. & Neuner, F. (2006). Prävalenz der Posttraumatischen Belastungsstörung (PTSD) und Möglichkeiten der Ermittlung in der Asylverfahrenspraxis (Prevalence of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among asylum seekers in Germany and its detection in the application process for asylum). Zeitschrift für Klinische Psychologie und Psychotherapie, 35 (1), 12-20.

Neuner, F., Schauer, M., Karunakara, U., Klaschik, C., Robert, C. & Elbert, T. (2006). Psychological trauma and evidence for enhanced vulnerability for posttraumatic stress disorder through previous trauma among West Nile refugees. BMC Psychiatry, 4 (34), full text availiable online

Spiegel: Gewalt in Flüchtlingsheimen: Traumatisiert und eingepfercht (German article describing the tensions in asylum-seeker camps due to their mental strass and acommodation conditions)

Spiegel: Therapie für traumatisierte Asylbewerber: „Ich kann leider nichts für Sie tun“ (German article dealing with the extremely limited possibilites to treat traumaticed asylum-seekers)

Is the Ugly German Back? Flames of Hate Haunt a Nation (English article on the violence attacks on asylum-seeker camps and shelters.

Tl, dnr:
Refugees and asylum-seekers are an incredibly vulnerable population, escaping from circumstances that not only threatened their physical but also their mental health. This has to be considered in the procedures and treatments they receive when looking for a safe place to stay.

Ryan Adams – I Just Might: On Dealing with Anxiety

quadr_ijustmightSince 2005, the US-American Singer/Songwriter Ryan Adams from Jacksonville, NC has suffered from an inner ear condition called Ménière’s disease. The symptoms of this disorder can include affected hearing, nausea, vertigo and balance disturbances. Episodes are triggered by various sensous triggers as bright lights, perception of stress, and certain types of alimentation.

His last, excellent self-titled album includes a song called I Just Might that illustrates very palpably and colourful an individual caught in a state of mind that (subjectively interpreted) might not only be associated to an episode of Ménière’s Disease, but also to the subjective perceptions of a panic attack or other forms of anxiety.

The protagonist of the song describes himself being caught in a dark room with covered windows, but yet in the first line, light begins to enter the room. From the very beginning, this light is connotated as a threat to the protagonist, an omen or preannouncement. (The lights are harsh as they break through the blinds // Shadows on the wall cross my face in black lines) The light from the outside causes the darkness inside.

Similar to a monster coming closer, the light and the associated threat seem to creep up on the protagonist, gradually and inevitabily approaching, (Daylight is so close, i can almost taste it). Becoming aware of this impending doom, the protagonist desperately tries to hold off the feelings emerging inside, with the effect that he has to realize that by his increasing attempts to control them, he even worsens the perceived tension, up to the point where he’s left paralyzed and defenseless (Dunno what to say, dunno what I said (…) Never leave the house, barely leave the room (…) Keep your head down, keep your eyes shut tight (…)). As a consequence, he falls into a state of desperate, resigned disconnection probably comparable to a state of dissociation (I’m free from desire as a rise above the maze).

The song doesn’t leave its protagonist in this hell though, but also offers a hint at what could be the resolve. The lines in the chours beginning with i just might imply that the outburst of the panic and the loss of control are the things the protagonist fears the most, but also, that that’s exactly what is about has to happen (and what the character might be beginning to embrace – i just might). Loosing control is scary, but fighting it even worsens everything, because it increases the tension and therefore augments the suffering.

The whole concept of a progressing deterioration is also reflected in the musical arrangement of the song. The anticipatory anxiety is expressed by very tense, deep played palm-muted notes (guitarists will be familiar to the concept of muting strings at the bottom of their guitar with the palm of the playing hand in order to create a repressed (sic!), deep and rock’y sound). These notes continue through all the song – implying that the impending doom of breaking out is always present, and just the intensity changes. In contrast, the moments where the protagonist is close to actually breaking out are accompanied by open played chords, standing for release, resolve and liberation.

The fact that after the final outburst of this type of music, when the listener thinks the song might already reached his end, the palm-muting notes start all over again. Anxiety or panic is not a singular, isolated experience. It continues to accompany the person in the everyday life – again, and again, and again (the last intonation of i just might in the song gives a hint of how exhausting this process can be). Fighting it will only make it worse. The only solution is to accept it.

tl;dnr
In his song “I Just Might”, Ryan Adams describes a character in a state of desperation. The illustrative and palpable depiction also serves to describe the state of mind of people suffering from panic attacks or other forms of anxiety. The arrangement of the song reflects very well its ideas. Fighting your feelings doesn’t work. Accepting them is hard, but will be the only way to resolve.

To check out the song, you can find a pretty good live version on youtube (though the studio version and the iTunes Festival 2014-version are even better!)

See Ryan talking candidly about his condition in an video interview with Canadian radio station CBC Q in 2012

To find one of the best and most thorough articles about Ryan Adams 2014-2015, go here. <