Do you ever have a normal day?

Has anyone  ever seen the film I Robot starring Will Smith? It’s based on a story by Isaac Asimov.  Smith plays his  typical action man role with misbehaving robots added.  The ultimate premise of the tale is how does one keep humanity safe – not from sci-fi’s ubiquitous invading aliens, no not even killer robots which someone has to program  – but from itself?   There is a line in the film where a scientist says to Will Smith’s character,  Do you ever have a normal day?  He replies: I did once.

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That is how it feels to be a mental health sufferer.  If you have a normal day you remember it. I shall remember November 18th for that reason because I got three quarters of the way through it before thinking.  Why don’t I feel ill, exhausted, depressed, agitated, fed up, sick?  Perm any one from five thousand, you know how it is.

I’m hoping I can keep this up, this whatever passes for the new normality. Not because I have to save humanity from awry robots, but just so as I can be and do the things I normally want to be and do without it being quite so much effort.

I am writing again which is good news, going out more, protesting about iniquitous politicians and am generally much busier than I was, in a good way of course.  Still it’s necessary to watch the business thing (or ‘busy-ness’ thing) because that can lead back down to the vortex.  But so can sitting about doing nothing I guess.  The trick is  as always  to find a balance.   Sometimes I work 24/7 to save myself from staring down the black hole.

When I get very busy I can feel my brain speeding up telling me now this needs doing, now this, now this, now this!! I start to panic at the overwhelming amount of stuff that I need to get done – and without Will Smith or robotic assistance, there is sadly only me to do it.  This is not helped by the internet and constant online-ness of everything but I do not think that has been the cause.  I have always tried to outrun father time, but he just shakes his head sadly behind my shoulder.

The fragility of being a mere human being.   I’ve been told that this kind of  thinking is a result of lack of confidence – that people who lack confidence in themselves feel that nothing they achieve could ever be enough so they drive on and on and wear themselves to a raveling.  Well I’m no psych person but it sounds logical to me and certainly reflects my life tendencies. The fear inside, the need for an unattainable perfection.  Setting small daily goals helps because it’s valuable to concentrate on what has been achieved rather that thinking of the distance still to run.

But this is how I see it.  I’ve been given my brain and if it works or if it doesn’t work it’s mine to cope with.  But also it’s mine to use to the best of my ability.  I read somewhere that the average human being (that’s pretty much most of us except for Stephen Hawking RIP and a few others) uses only around 30%  of his/her potential brain power.  Imagine that!  Only one-third. We’ve still got two-thirds to go guys – and there’s a planet to save.

The Japanese Word for Panic Attacks

There are many foreign words that do not have an English translation. One example is the Japanese word mushaburui. It translates to shaking or trembling with excitement. Musha is the Japanese word for samurai or warrior. Burui comes from the verb furu which means to shake or tremble. One website referred to the word as “shaking like a samurai.” The English translation doesn’t convey exactly what the word means. One person described with a scenario. Imagine a samurai waking in the morning before a battle. They are shaking with anticipation. It’s both fear and excitement. Will they live? Will they die?

The description of this word makes me think of a panic attack. Sometimes there isn’t any real danger when one has a panic attack, but the emotion is the same. The 2010 film “13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku)” has a character who mentions this emotion. He says at one point in the film, “As a samurai in this era of peace, I have wished for a noble death. Now fate has called to me. See, my hands are trembling. It’s a warrior’s battle shakes.” Is the anticipation of one’s death not the same as a panic attack? It’s about one’s perspective of what they’re feeling.

This also reminds me of the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan.” I have mentioned before how I related to Tom Hanks’ character in the film. At the beginning of the film, as the boats approach Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, his hand is trembling. This is the same feeling the samurai felt in “13 Assassins.” This is the same feeling I have during a panic attack. When someone asks how I’m feeling, I can finally provide a word to describe it. Not everyone will know the meaning, but there is a kind of power in giving something a name.

The next time you’re feeling excited, be it negative or positive excitement, call it was it is. Mushaburui. Having this new outlook on what this emotion is, I can overcome some of my fear and accept the panic attack. I accept it as something natural. It prepares my body and reminds me of my own mortality. Courage doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means you go anyway. I’ve felt like I’ve lived in fear the last couple of years because my body would tremble at the thought of something. I will force myself to keep going. Whether I tremble or not.

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Days when life scrolls across the vision…

Some time ago I took myself to the cinema to watch Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia.

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Three quarters of the way through the film I got an attack of claustrophobia or anxiety (or perhaps just melancholia)  and had to leave the cinema, so I never found out if the two planets collide at the end or not.  Even though the film is on Netflix I still haven’t caught up.   It is a strange film, but then it portrays strange lives.  Is there any life which is not a strange life?  What is normal and how do we know? 

In any event, I was much less interested in the idea of an apocalyptic collision between two planets than I was in the film’s portrayal of depression, how sufferers feel isolated, even when surrounded by others:  perhaps especially when surrounded by others.   The main character (played by Kirsten Dunst) is so ill she can’t even get through her own wedding day and who can blame her, it’s a pretty dire wedding.  Sometimes in depression things which are relevant and important just don’t feel relevant and important, even though everyone is telling us that they are.  That idea in itself leaves the thinker outside the group.

There are times I regard with bemusement things others may find of vital interest; there are days when  life seems to scroll my vision across like credits rolling at the end of a programme.   I am like the viewer who has already gone to the kitchen to make tea without seeing the list of hard working people whose labours have gone into the film’s creation.

I continue to be fascinated by links between the artistic nature and mental health.  I do believe there is one.   I also believe trying to craft words, music or pictures out of nothing (although it’s not out of nothing it’s out of the psyche) leave us vulnerable to disturbed layers in the sediment of our sub-conscious.  But is it then the case that an artistically inclined person is more open to adverse mental health effects than say someone who has created a business plan from nothing or a scientific formula?

Logically it doesn’t seem possible.    According to friend Google through whose kind offices I have just discovered that Charles Darwin suffered from schizophrenia, scientists are also prone to depression.     I also discovered the completely unverified fact that that individuals who score straight A’s at school are four times more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder.

So be of good cheer guys we are all brighter than average.  Let’s be wise as well and take care of ourselves.

Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is My Favorite War Film

The first time I saw this film, I enjoyed it but I always wondered why they never explained the shaky hand that Tom Hanks’ character Captain Miller had in a few scenes.  The most memorable scene with this was at the beginning just before the soldiers storm the beach of Normandy, France. Captain Miller’s hand starts shaking, as if he has had too much coffee and little food, but it seems like he ignores this and the viewer assumes it will be explained later.  They never mention it and only use it as a visual.

I did not understand this when I first saw the film because I was about 12 years old.  I understand now that it was intended to visually show the post-traumatic stress Captain Miller had experienced.  I would also consider this a physical symptom of a panic attack.  I never knew I had anxiety and depression as a child.  I only discovered this recently and I am 31 years old as I write this article. Within the last couple years, I learned what a panic attack really was with first-hand experience.  My attacks were never as severe as others I read about but it was still real.

For almost 5 years, I was a bouncer at a nightclub.  This job came with lots of stress having to babysit 250+ drunk adults.  I have been puked on, pissed on, punched in the face countless number of times, had a homeless man pull a knife on me, and someone tried to intentionally run me over with their car.  All this stress added to my anxiety.  The last 2 years as a bouncer, I noticed that my chest would start pounding if I thought something serious was happening.  A balloon popped during New Year’s Eve and I spent 10 minutes trying to calm down.

I checked my heart rate one of these times and noticed that it was still within the normal range.  My heart rate was not elevated but my chest was pounding.  I looked up what this could mean and everything said this was a symptom of a panic attack.  I had never had a panic attack before and these had been going on for about 6 weeks before I looked it up.  When I have a panic attack, or if I think my life might be threatened, my chest starts pounding and I become hyper alert looking at and listening to everything.

I do not know if I have post-traumatic stress but I do have anxiety and some of the symptoms are similar.  This film resonates with me more and more each time I watch it.  I can relate to Captain Miller even more now than I did 20 years ago.  I understand the emotions and thoughts that are going through his mind before storming Normandy beach.  I understand why his hand is shaking during certain scenes of the film.  I understand why he still gets out of the boat despite the threat of losing his life. Courage does not mean you are not afraid.  It means you go anyway.