Anyone who’s in the not-so-exclusive club of the 9 million peeps who have read ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl will totally get this. I’ve not even finished it, but I’m finding it as inspirational as Madonna’s Virgin Tour was to the eight year old me. But unlike the queen of pop, the king of spiritual enlightenment, Frankl, will not be going off trend any time soon. And he is not encouraging me to walk the village streets wearing purple lipstick and lacy fingerless gloves. That was the 80s. Frankl wrote this in the 40s – and it is still as relevant and widely accepted today. Unlike Madonna’s fashion sense.
There’s a quote in there by Nietzche and its theme runs throughout:
He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.
Wow. That’s quite a statement. Especially once you learn that Frankl experienced the Holocaust.
Now the Holocaust is too horrific to even contemplate. But my god, if people can find hope during times like that, we sure as hell owe them an attempt at finding hope in our world today. So this idea of having a ‘why’ can be applied to almost any situation.
I once had a job where I was treated unfairly. During that time, I lost days to anger, anxiety and a few too many bottles of wine. My mornings were peppered with tears and involved me hollering at my loved ones for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Every day I’d get on the bus to work and sit obsessing over my anxiety symptoms, believing I might have throat cancer or worse because it felt like my breakfast bagel was lodged in my throat when in reality, all that was lodged in my throat was a big ball of stress. And possibly a 24-hour reminder that cheap wine has the same effect on the throat as a strong wallpaper stripper does on wood chip.
Basically, I was going through the motions. Living life without seeing anything beyond the monotony of the utter shite that was work. If you become consumed with the shit storm, you’re going to miss the gentle breeze that blows around it and the little rays of sunshine that offer up the all important vitamin D. You’re going to forget who you are and who you love. And you’re going to forget the ‘why’.
You’ll no longer laugh at Sarah Millican’s ‘taking the bins out’ joke. Kylie will no longer manage to get your arse up off the sofa and wiggling round the kitchen while cleaning the oven. And you’ll not even notice that your husband is wearing ridiculous Sponge Bob pants that practically glow in the dark.
And then, one day, you decide that fate isn’t your master. Fuck that. Where the hell have I been for the past six months? All of a sudden, Sarah Millican tells the world she got knocked up by Mr Kipling and I nearly pee my pants. And speaking of pants, my husband’s are shining so brightly his arse appears to be radioactive. I am once more Spinning Around with Mr Muscle in the kitchen and wiggling my own arse (please take note, in our house, we both clean the oven. And we both put the bins out. In literal and Sarah Millican terms – but enough of that filth I don’t write for Razzle).
I remembered that I could deal with the shit in my own unique way. I didn’t have to lose myself to other people’s actions. Win or lose, I knew that I would feel calmer by fighting through it, rather than letting the mucky whirlpool of water drown me out silently.
Weirdly, by taking on what seemed like a load more stress (i.e. applying for new jobs, battling a legal fight), my anxiety levels started to drop and my confidence started to tell me that I was way stronger than I thought. So strong, in fact, that if I spilt a drink over Courtney Love in a bar I could hold my own in the ensuing fist fight (sometimes, you can get a little over excited with new found strength I guess).
I chose to be myself in the situation and not some kind of rapidly expiring lost soul waiting for fate to sort things out for me.
It’s the same with mental illness isn’t it? You can feel like its kicking you down into the pits of hell, but what seems at the time to be the smallest step towards recovery (often talking about it with your GP) sends a great big ray of light towards you. It’s not cleared the black menacing clouds yet, but you know it might be on its way. And that little ray is enough to keep you going.
There’s a wonderful scene at the end of Denise Welch’s award-winning film about depression, Black Eyed Susan, where she sees the golden light shine through the curtains. That moment changes everything.
I’ve fought that fight and many more (believe me, there’s a few people better off since I challenged the inconsistency of bus fares on the Gosforth to City Centre route a couple of years ago. Esther Rantzen eat your heart out).
But it’s not just about fighting. It’s about purpose in its broader sense. What is our role in life? For me it’s about loving my infuriatingly annoying but wonderful and eccentric family. It’s about cooking my stepson his favourite veggie chilli. Or singing so badly to Bonnie Tyler that it makes my husband start his Monday morning with a chuckle as he leaves for work. It’s about being part of a family of animal lovers who rescue poorly hedgehogs and birds. And of overcoming a fear of public speaking allowing me to speak out passionately against mental health stigma.
There’s so much I still have to do. And to learn, of course.
There’s more to life than the Tories striking a deal with the DUP. There’s more to life than the fact that Donald Trump got into politics and that Katie Hopkins has a few too many ignorant Twitter disciples. Because if there wasn’t we wouldn’t really have any reason to care about these what these complete dicksplats get up to would we? We’d have no reason to fight the arrogance and intolerance if there wasn’t a bright side to life. If there wasn’t hope.
Some of my ‘whys’ are above. The ‘how’ can be pretty difficult at times. But the ‘whys’ trump the ‘hows’ every time. I’d love to hear your ‘whys’ too. You don’t need to be famous or running the country to have them. I mean, those who are running countries seem to have forgotten what theirs even are don’t they….