Monday, 8 July 2013

Running with Wolves OR Engaging with Mr Hyde

Most if not all of us have a dark side, possibly never more memorably illustrated than by Robert Louis Stevenson in his famous novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

What do we see when we look in a mirror? Sometimes, reflecting on how we look exposes much of how we are feeling but cannot articulate at the time; an indefinable anxiety about giving much if anything away.

In my experience, we need to give more away, feel less inhibited about confiding worries, fears, even a sense of split personality that can only fuel both.

On the whole, we all do a good job of camouflage. But is that a good thing? I suspect people would be less likely to crack under the strain of whatever it was causes them to do terrible things if they had felt able to talk to someone who might have been able to help them reach a clearer, less awful perspective on friends, family, colleagues, and life in general.

Having experienced a severe nervous breakdown some 30+ years ago, I remain haunted by how much worse it so easily could have been if I hadn’t received the help and support I needed. This, I should add, was more by accident then design.

Looking back, I can see how feelings of distress fuelled by an emotionally damaged childhood and early manhood erupted as they did. I am only surprised this didn’t occur years earlier. Possibly, compensating very well (too well) for a significant hearing loss and having to conceal the fact that I am gay for many years (when gay relationships were a criminal offence) made me such an expert in the art of hiding my feelings that I could not even make them out myself. Certainly, I could not articulate on them and needed help in flushing them out before I could even begin to come to terms with how I really felt or who I really am.

Traumatic and distressing though my breakdown was, I was one of the lucky ones. 30+ years on, I still suffer bouts of depression from time to time, but these are nothing compared to what happened to me then. Tragically, mental health is still something of a taboo subject which is probably why most people’s conception of mental health issues continues to be na├»ve if not downright ignorant; more often than not, it is a distorted one. Only those of us who have experienced it and the relatively few people who have supported us on that ghastly roller-coaster ride, have any idea of the damage it does to the human psyche.

So if someone you know starts behaving strangely and out of character, please don’t give up on them. Try to help and support them. (Professional help and support is not always either forthcoming or constructive.) It isn’t always easy being a friend, but friendship means taking the rough with the smooth. Sadly, some people are only interested in the latter; they cannot or will not contend with the other.

This poem is a villanelle.


Find beasties in mirrors weeping
for those looking fear in the eye,
never truly awake or ever sleeping

Silent as dawn’s stealth creeping
over bedcovers where we lie,
find beasties in mirrors weeping

Werewolves in sheep’s clothing
(human nature knows us by)
never truly awake or ever sleeping

Consorting with gargoyles sweeping
up mistakes and lies we’ll deny,
find beasties in mirrors weeping

Through a lace curtain of empathy,
home truths from which we shy,
never truly awake or ever sleeping

Alter ego, a chameleon peeping
through a roaming glass eye;
find beasties in mirrors weeping,
never truly awake or ever sleeping

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010

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