The (in)complete package
Being friends with other mental health professionals basically means you have nowhere to hide. This is a conversation between me and my friend L the Therapist. Saturday morning Borough Market and I’ve come over all Oedipal.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me – I’ve finally got the chance to find Surviving Work a home and raise some money and I’m like whatever. It’s like I can’t be bothered to do the one thing that I know I want to do. If someone had said I could start to deliver Surviving Work courses mainstream, last year I’d have poured them into a glass and drunk them. But I just keep thinking of all the organisations I’ve been flirting with over the last few years – doing all these gigs for free, huge efforts to get people to pay me some attention and I don’t feel I’ve got anywhere. I realised I’d written over 20 packages for potential partners, all bells and tit-tassels, and nobody wanted any of them. I know people like what I do but I just don’t think anyone actually wants me.”
At which point I feel the wind change direction as a fully qualified mental health professional who loves me summons up the courage to tell me what I’m actually saying.
L the T: “This isn’t just about work you know, it’s about all of your relationships. You keep doing all this work preparing these perfect packages and nobody knows how to, urm, penetrate you. You could swap the word ‘work’ with ‘men’ and you’d pretty much have nailed it.”
I’d like to say that I had the grace to just internalize this profound statement of love and wisdom instead like baby puking out a feed I go a bit gonzo in public. This was all said with wild body movements and even wilder expletives.
“Oh please, look everything about me says “stay away”. Marxist feminist trade unionist working in mental health I can clear a room like nobody on earth. I’m constantly covering up for reasons of undiluted self-preservation. Nobody wants to have a relationship with someone this complex and if you mention online dating again I will dig your heart out with a spoon. I’m the most profoundly single person I know and I don’t know how to turn this around. I need a neon sign above my head flashing “take the risk and ask me because I guarantee you I will say yes”. I’ve spent years in a negative therapeutic reaction refusing to say what’s on my mind and now I finally can nobody wants to hear it. I work harder than George Clooney to be the complete package and it turns out nobody on earth actually wants it.”
I finish off grandly in the middle of the road shouting
“I don’t want to be analysed I just want to be adored.”
Mary Mother of God.
Instead of taking the opportunity to punch some sense into me L the Therapist takes me by the shoulders and says
“What do you think will happen if people actually see you as a human being rather than this complete package?”
And here comes the moment of psychic truth when I say “I think they will hate me”
Voila, me Oedipals.
This Tourette of Regression has brought to centre stage my profound existential pickle. The Oedipus complex, despite being devastatingly uncool, is a massive focus of work in psychoanalysis. I have until recently denied I had one and understandably tiptoed my way around the ewwwww factor inherent in a story which includes fancying and killing your own parents. Working through the Oedipus complex is what we could call a hard sell and honestly if I’d known that dabbling in psychoanalysis would end at this point I’d have joined the positive psychology movement and just cheered the hell up.
The Psychoanalyst Robert Money-Kyrle writes beautifully about the facts of life, one of them being our capacity to bear our exclusion from couples. In a literal sense it’s about realising that parents at some point are actually a couple and do things (gasp, sex) that don’t involve you. Uh huh, let’s walk on swiftly by and see this as a metaphor for our relationship with the grown up world, including our working lives. Being able to grow up means accepting that the world is not entirely under our control and there’s lots of stuff going on that does not include us. As well as the reality that people are right now having meetings where I am not on the agenda it’s also the case that I am not anyone’s all and everything. In no sense am I a Daddy’s girl.
The upside to this awful reality of exclusion is that once you stop evading it you can actually get on with your life. In a way it’s a demotion when you stop being Jesus but it also gets you off your high horse and into a world where no one person is the centre of anyone else’s world. It means you’re never complete but this is merely an opportunity to fool around with a lot of other people. At work, with friends and lovers, it’s about others, not just The One.
For those dear readers amongst you familiar with the push pull of growing up you’ll remember the sickening sensation of development. Growing up is a backwards forwards thing – a step forward often followed by a step back, a regression or a hissy fit to register your protest to change. Not wishing to gloss over turning into a sweaty troll in public, my existential melt down might be a very good sign of growing pains as well as a huge source of entertainment for a group of Spanish teenagers.
My Oedipals are everything to do with you. The way we shape our relationships in work or play says a great deal about where we come from and whether we managed to get over it. Having relationships rests in part on being able to tolerate not being the centre of a binary universe and looking for The One. While it might not be the stuff of romance being the incomplete package allows you to fool around a lot with the other kids.
Meet you round the back of the bike sheds.
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