How to act like a human

lots of blurred people

Everyone human being is made slightly different. Given that there are now over seven billion of us that’s pretty remarkable. It’s also not surprising that some of us malfunction in minor ways.

When I was a child
I thought everyone else had a sixth sense that I was lacking. As an adult, and after several different and sometimes interesting psychiatric diagnoses, I have come to realise that we’re all different in some way (not just me) and that applying labels doesn’t change anything.

As a child I didn’t understand how social interactions worked. I watched, trying to see how people communicated beyond the words they uttered. Small changes of expression, subtle body movements and hand gestures, variations in tone of voice and small pauses – they all augmented what they said or even replaced speech altogether. I didn’t have an innate ability to pick up on all of this so I studied cartoons, where an artist uses a set of facial rules for expression.

The people watching syndrome
This problem with ‘reading’ people also turned me into an extreme people watcher. By the time I was at university I was also supplementing my course work with reading about non verbal communication and body language. And I devoured several accessible books on psychology and psychiatry – plus attempting a few that were beyond my understanding.

So this is me
I am a hotchpotch, created by observing other people and trying to imitate their tics, blinks and sideways looks. I’m quite good at it now.

What I never realised was that all that observation would turn out to be useful when creating characters in stories. I had unknowingly been building a reference library in my head of characterisations.

What about wearing a label?
Maybe all writers should wear a warning sign, ‘Everything you say or do may be used in a novel’.

My particular label?
According to a recent diagnosis (about 5 years ago and very detailed over several meeting) I am ‘sub clinically autistic. Even my GP doesn’t quite know what that means so who cares.

Have you had a label attached to you that either makes you laugh or explains some of your quirky habits?

Alone

A crowd of people

A sirens sounds for the daily dance,
a game that is carelessly played.
In covert signs and coded words,
Liaisons are sought, alliances made.

But those who don’t hear, or don’t know the rules,
are lost in this masquerade.

By day they are silent, in the evening alone,
weaving dreams that may never see light.
Mouthing the words of songs they have learned,
while dancing alone, hidden from sight.

Shrouded with empathy, dusted with love,
Trapped in their room, alone at night.

Mental health awareness

snow fields

There is a big campaign, with lots of publicity, about speaking out on mental health issues and making it okay to admit to friends and family that you have problems. This is a good initiative but there are a few issues I’ve noticed.

Virtue signalling for exposure
Some celebrities have hijacked the subject of mental health to promote new books, new tv shows, almost anything they are ‘selling’. Their past, maybe current, problems are probably real, but when the last part of their ‘confession’ is a commercial link or tag, I begin to question their motives – or those of their agents.

Me too reactions
When a mental issue is raised among friends or family there is often a ‘me too’ reaction. Phrases which I’ve heard include…

1 Well I could let myself be depressed, but I just shake myself out of it.

2 We’re all on the autistic scale somewhere.

3 God I know what you mean, like I literally have thought about killing myself so many times.

4 We’ve all got OCD to some extent, I do loads of those things too.

5 I’ve had a few sessions with CBT and it’s cured me completely.

6 There’s nothing wrong with you, I’ve known you for years and you don’t have that.

I hope I don’t need to pick apart each one of these responses, but if you haven’t suffered from any serious mental health issues you will never fully understand the trauma they can cause. I spent some time as a Samaritan listener and it put my own problems firmly in perspective. Yes, I have been diagnosed with mental health problems. Yes, I do take some modest medication to help with those problems. But I cope.

From the casual observer’s point of view I have lived a pretty normal, stable life. But nobody knows what goes on inside someone else’s head. To suggest you do, and that’s it’s perfectly normal, is as ridiculous as saying “I used to only have one leg, but I decided to grow another one”.