Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Because to feel alien is not to feel alone

Even when I feel what I write cannot make sense and everything is an attempt to uphold something, anything.

The days of alienation  can feel the most disconcerting. Yesterday , I made myself go to the supermarket with my Mum to try and feel part of a functioning world, or so I told myself. Only, the world seemed to function around me. People seemed to shuttle past, almost mechanical, wearing expressions like clothes and clothes like expression. Nothing quite seemed to fit together. A persons smile across the aisle seemed appalling, and rather than ‘domestic’, trolleys of shopping seemed suspended like open confessions of the fabrication of living. It is only in retrospect I guess I can describe this sensation as ‘alienation’ – a sort of eerie detachment from surroundings, as if the mind is weaving a narrative  to which you are a witness rather than part of. It is in this article I want to discuss feelings of ‘alienation’, how they exist, and how ultimately, in recognising they exist, it can be affirmed that such sensations can be overcome. I wrote a poem on it:

They shifted in an odd, recited silence
Like limbs in a séance.
I thought that this was perhaps hospital
Attempting to liberate itself,
The lighting mocked the middling sun
Melting walls, the rows of shelves
Invited each figure like a child
To indulge in that impulse for excess.
I guess, their recovery
Or success, lay in a series of attempted steps
Across the pre-marked paths
Each keeping each just to themselves
Looking out through layers of glass.

A new system where you ‘help yourself’
Propelling conscious choice along
For judgement through an open cask
They parade the  flesh and bone along.
Why do I stand and see the patients
With a  patience I have felt before
Like watching trains pull of stations
Going places other people will call home.
For here the words adorn the greasy
Surfaces of the communal toy
The idea of food to not be fearing
Pre-packaged living they say can be enjoyed
The empty life of chests of freezers
The presumed freshness of the crust
Of ice which bites against the fingers
And smiles of mirrors, silts to dust.

Where am I
The race proceeding
The limbs bleed by, those ones to watch
That disguise
The premise they are leaving
For the rest who think the doors are locked.

This is about alienation. It is a perspective refreshingly addressed in Matt Haig’s new book ‘The Humans’ – taking the perspective of an ‘alien’. It is only in reading further that this ‘alien’ may be closer to home than first thought – the mind and what it makes us.

The concept of ‘alien’ does still appear to apply to depression, and, this is what Haig’s book, amongst other things, attempts to explore; the humorous quality accentuating the ridiculous nature in which mental health can be wrongly misjudged.  In that, I mean Haig is highlighting how mental health is an issue often treated with alienation, when it is those who are suffering who often feel alienated themselves. This is what we need to recognise, after all, people providing their accounts and interpretations of alienation has also been historic:

“He was so terrible that he was no longer terrible, only dehumanized.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is The Night

After all, ‘alien’  a term appropriated to an object being compared to humanity, and identified as holding potential similarities to humanity, but yet not human. Depression could be described as acting as director to these definitions in a sense, taking its time to twist the limbs of the individual through what feel like a pantomime of human actions. It becomes part of manufacturing a vision of dislocation – other bodies seeming eerily distant.

It is a sensation difficult to describe, but to feel non-human, or even ‘alien’ is by definition, not a ‘feeling’ at all. It is that which falls outside of human definition, deemed destructive as there is no immediate area for categorisation. This is still an issue I believe still permeates and prevents progress in the discussion of mental health. Although it is fantastic that more resources are available for people to discuss mental health conditions, what the resources often fall short on is the discussion of mentality itself. We seem to live in a society in which we are fed with ideals of what it sit to be ‘human’. The doctor’s waiting room affirms this just as does the supermarket aisle. For there are the magazines, sheath upon sheath, with their bright colours and enhanced images of what are anticipated to be ‘human interests’ and ‘human enjoyment’. They may well recognise the ‘conditions’ from which humans may suffer – physical and mental – ‘depression’, ‘bi-polar disorder’, for example. In this way, the media is talking more openly about mental health problems and can be constructive.  But an uncovered, unleafed area, still lies in the mind itself, that the mind itself can be disconcerting, that it can act and feel inhuman. Felling inhuman, alien, can be one of the hardest things to talk about – as language is a  human construct, leaving the poor tongue with hardly anything over which to begin.

So why then can I write about feeling alien? How  do people talk about feeling alienated? Because although the mind may make us feel ‘other’, that there is the potential to talk about it, that people often raise it as a symptom of their unhappiness – proves that  it is not felt constantly. It abates, and those who have felt alienation, can feel something else, because they recognise it was not a sensation experienced, rather than themselves.  Almost ironically, beautiful irony, to write about alienation is to write from being alive. And this brings me back to the beginning of my article – concerning the novel ‘The Humans’ and its focus upon alienation- highlighting that the experience of alienation can be used to add to an interpretation of the world itself.  Alienation discussed is thus not alienation alone; and that questions definition itself. That is the point –discussion of the mind pushes boundaries, just as the mind pushes the boundaries of the person. It is discussion which needs to happen  - discussion which can help break barriers for the better.

BUT - That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.”

― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

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