Being different in 2016
Much as I would love to be someone completely different and start this new year with a wellbeing questionnaire and some top tips for workplace happiness, I actually start 2016 thinking about death.
Sigh. Another year begins with me feeling like a bit of a weirdo in the workplace playground.
Along with the 3am paranoia about an angry email sent by a colleague on Christmas Eve and a creeping sense of dread about my aptitude for the modern workplace, I can’t get the last few weeks of 2015 out of my mind. The Paris shootings, a recording for radio on fundamentalism and then an event on death at the Photographers Gallery. Technically this counts as a stiff upper lip situation when I just wanted to crawl under a rock.
So, rather than putting a match to everything I have ever learned and starting 2016 with a full blown psychic retreat, I take the new year very very seriously by pausing for thought.
Characteristically this was done in a field while surrounded by sheep, my tribe of choice.
It started in Paris
Like many people of an artistic persuasion, I was in Paris on the 13th November, meeting my twin sister visiting from NYC. Over the days that follow the the rage that exploded in me was hard to contain. What Bion calls the ‘chaos monster’ was unleashed.
The rage at my own vulnerability making me psychically violent. An internal terrorist not interested in the dynamic world of human life, instead everything reduced to black and white. My BFF Thanatos and the seduction of a Nirvana fantasy offering a final solution to fear. I demand absolute certainty.
For many of us the shock of threat or loss returns us to a place of trauma and feelings that we fashion our whole lives to avoid. Whether through intellectualisations or art, knowledge or a religious belief in our school of thought, we all try to keep away from staring into the existential abyss. Overwhelmed by the insecurity of life and the certainty of death.
Twinning as a defence
Anxiety can do bad stuff to people. For many of us it is a return to a traumatised state where mind is separated from body. Connections and links are broken and the world gets split into good and bad.
Twinning in this sense is a psychic defence. A union of the same, a panic room safe from the reality of actual human relationships with other different and separate people. A fantasy of two being one, names get exchanged and subjectivity at best ambiguous.
This twinning can be of great comfort to the people involved and the witnesses of their idyllic state. Always there to protect each other from the hard facts of life. That we are different and alone, and that we all die.
An entire work life devoted to solidarity and the good deeds of the left and just 48 hours in Paris I don’t care about anyone except my twin.
And then seven days later, my love for psychoanalysis kicks in. For many people psychoanalysis is not an intellectual defence, rather an emancipatory practice, that gets stuck into the blood and guts of overthrowing my internal terrorist. The part of me that wants to destroy anything that does not share my exact DNA.
Psychoanalysis has given me a ‘third’ position that frees me from this binary monochrome world. A place outside of the playpen where I can choose to look at myself and my place in the world in an approximately grown up way. By pausing to think about this rather than lash out, quite unexpectedly and uncharacteristically, I feel gratitude to my analyst. Love even. The many years wrestling with psychoanalytic ideas and a painful process of development has, despite my defiance in the face of change, taken place. It is this that now comes into play, helping me maintain myself – psychically and emotionally – even in the face of great loss.
I celebrate my new found adulthood by no longer referring to my analyst as The Butcher, and calling him by his actual name. Just a man who took the time to help me see the parts of myself that I could not bear to do alone.
The Facts of Life
The process of living a full life requires us to accept some facts of life which include our separateness from others and our own mortality. It also includes the painful knowledge that we are inevitably dependent on the people around us. People who are not like us, not our twin, who are not perfectly attuned to our needs.
In a context of violence, one of the great seductions is to believe that we are united in our trauma. Our actual experience can be that when the balance tips in favour of fear our relationships easily break down. Betrayals, mistakes and withdrawal from the people we love, our wounds sometimes too deep for the other to get close.
This traumatic reality presents us with a massive dilemma. How to stay connected to the people around us when everything in us wants to run screaming into the hills?
Solidarity is not a union of like minded folk who would never hurt each other. Solidarity as an ideal exists precisely because we are all capable of acting defensively and against our own human interests. In a context of violence, if there is a fight to be had it is a psychological one. To continue to take the risk of practicing solidarity by making contact with other people who are not the same as us. A relational model of solidarity.
Sometimes the very best we can do is to be just human amongst other humans. Sisters and brothers, but not twins.
To read our eBook The Death Detectives click here.
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