Freedom and mental health

I do not know what freedom means. I know I have never experienced it and yet I have an idea what I would want it to mean as a lived experience.

I cannot think of anything that could or would impact me more than having a quiet mind. That is what I can imagine freedom to be. A mind not constantly caught up in the throes or torment, fear and confusion: not having to fight for every clear thought or perception, not battling with itself against any and everything I might want or desire. A mind that would shut the fuck up once in a while and give me some peace.

Peace? Is that freedom? That seems to me to satisfy both issues of freedom, freedom from and freedom to. Freedom from torment and freedom to enjoy peace and live.

Part of the problem is that living in this human dominated world, it doesn’t take too much of a long hard look to realise it’s bonkers. How could it not be, humans are, above all, irrational creatures. We naturally place irrationality above reason, it’s kind of our default position. Reason is one of the tools in our toolbox, but many, if not most, of us, use it very sparingly in favour of prejudice or whatever we fancy and long may it stay that way, but everything has its limits. If you find the notion of us as irrational creatures hard to swallow, explain Donald Trump. Or racism. It is an inherent part of our make-up and we have to work hard to deal with it. Irrationality is the shortest distance between two pieces of elastic and that is not nearly as obscure as it might at first seem.

While I’m scrabbling around for a bit of peace, one of the great survival mechanisms of an unquiet mind is humour and not always in my own best interests.

I was helping out a community group last week as a free taxi and we needed to buy some tools, including an axe. In the store one of the group was invited by a member of staff to select an axe from the store safe and returned to us accompanied by the staff member who had to deliver the axe to the checkout. Safe to say, my mind was already blown by this performance and as we prepared to pay I said, “let the murdering commence!” Like an idiot. The staff member went beetroot red and said, “We can’t sell an axe to anyone who says things like that!” ‘Quite right too!’ the dark satanic humour giggles away inside.

This is far from the first time that dark humour has got me into trouble. But, sadly, it’s a compulsion. If I can’t have a laugh at how bonkers the world is because a very tiny few people are axe murderers, I can’t survive. And trust me on this, if an axe murderer wants an axe, they’ll bloody well get one and the store will be only too glad to sell them one, it’s the rest of us who fall foul of the madness of the restrictions that get dumped on us. The axe murderer will play the bloody game right up until he (for over 90% of murderers are men) starts killing.

At one point in town I got lost and all sorts of issues came into play, age and decrepitude chief among them, but including physical pain, confusion, self pity and simple bodily weakness, all of which fed into an explosion of rage and of me yelling louder than I have ever yelled in my life, in the middle of town, “I fucking hate being this pathetic!”

The above is all true and my poor old frazzled brain doesn’t deal with crap like that at all well, and life is like that all the time, the madness is everywhere, my own included. The bible says there’s no peace for the wicked, what the fuck did the rest of us do wrong?

Two of the greatest enemies of peace, freedom and well being are lies and deception. These weapons of mass destruction are vastly underrated. Throw a lie into the mix and it goes on a killing spree of the truth. Millions of people in Britain have no understanding of politics, and specifically, they have no understanding of the reality and the power of deception. Many (possibly most) readers of the Daily Mail have little or no idea that it has a hidden agenda, which is deception. In order to understand the deception you have to understand the motive, in order to understand the motive, you have to look outside the content and the lies that are being peddled by others for self-serving reasons. It’s incredibly complex.

People who suffer from poor mental health are particularly vulnerable to lies and deceit. It is a battle I have fought all my life. Not only am I fighting an inner war with my own mind, I have to deal with a dishonest world and expend vital time and energy sifting the many deceits of life, not least politically.

The current state of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is an object lesson in battling deceit and a bogus narrative of ‘making work pay’ and ‘supporting people into work’. In a recent press release, Amber Rudd said of the DWP, “The changes I am making ensure that behind our supportive staff, is a fairer and more compassionate system.” [1]. She makes no mention of food banks, sanctions, frozen benefits, waiting times and crisis loans which drive people further into poverty, debt and death [2][3]. Does anyone see any freedom or peace in that?

I am at a loss to know what I have become. I sit, at war with my ailing body, at war with a mind that looks back more than forwards. Death, the final indignity, awaits, but I do not call that freedom. Shit on death, the only freedom that matters is in life. I cannot and will not plan for something I know nothing about, which is unknown and unknowable and the experience of which is hidden behind an impenetrable veil which life as we know it cannot lift or part.

I am furious in old age that everything I have worked to know and understand is not complete and never will be. I do not resent one moment of the journey of discovery that has been my life, but it’s damnably late in the day to get lost now. But I am. More lost than I even have words to express. Oh, and the energy it takes to get going these days, to get out of bed and motivate myself. Everything I have taken for granted is a weaker force now and must be pushed and shoved to fire it up, if it even will.

Am I too old for freedom? Does it matter? I cannot explain it, but yes it damned well does, it matters so much. At the very least I wish it was something I could pass on, a parting gift to those who inevitably must follow. But perhaps I have at last discovered what Dylan Thomas was on about:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” [4]

Oh yes, there is rage burning in me yet. I cannot pass it on, it’s one of those, ‘You have to live it’, and maybe freedom has nothing to do with it at all.

Was freedom just something we made up along the way?

Keith Ordinary Guy

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/amber-rudd-behind-our-supportive-staff-is-a-compassionate-system

[2] https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/end-benefit-freeze-stop-people-being-swept-poverty

[3] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/pip-waiting-time-deaths-disabled-people-die-disability-benefits-personal-independence-payment-dwp-a8727296.html

[4] https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night