Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Half-formed thoughts about Bad Things

Currently, I've been thinking about how people cope with stress and trauma. My grandfather is currently in hospital and failing to respond to treatment, and I just hope that my grandmother isn't behaving the way she normally does when there's a problem (I can't go and see him, because I've got full-blown flu, which would kill off him and half the ward in an instant). I hope she's not being REALLY REALLY EXTRA CHEERFUL and totally dismissive of everyone's concerns - that's what generally happens, and that upsets him (he's unconscious now, so actually I don't suppose it matters).

"My head has fallen off."

"Nonsense! Buck up, you'll be fine!"

My grandmother refuses to read books, or to watch films, that might be at all sad in any way. Now, this coping method is pretty bad on its own - but where does it leave her when something happens that she can't ignore? Does she go completely crazy? I don't actually know the answer to that one, not having been alive at the deaths of her parents.

Note that I'm coping with this situation by mainly ignoring it - that's simply because I can't get my mind to believe it. The doctors have said "Your grandfather is going to die" before, and they've reached that conclusion by grossly underestimating his physical and mental strength.

What about coping with traumatic events in the past? Well, my grandmother "dealt" with that one by not telling anybody about it, until she finally snapped and told the nearest person, who was an eleven-year-old child. Who wasn't allowed to tell anyone how freaked out he was by the revelation, because it was a secret.

Again, not so good.

For people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for some people without, there's the issue of triggers - situations or sensations that cause you to recall the event. If it were possible, you'd cope while avoiding these altogether.

However, it's my understanding that, sometimes, you can't really predict when you'll be triggered. Say you were in a car accident that killed your friend - no-one has to mention death, or car accidents, or your friend's name, because somebody who's just shaken your hand at a party is wearing the same strong aftershave as the paramedic who pulled you out of the wreckage.

And that's why a lot of people with post-traumatic stress seem to be coping extremely well - firstly, maybe they can keep a calm detachment when the incidents are mentioned, because words don't necessarily register on that visceral level, and secondly - well, in a way it's all or nothing, isn't it? If you can't predict when something will trigger you, you can't avoid it; you just become an excellent liar in your non-verbal communication.

(These are things that I've learned from talking to people with PTSD and people who wouldn't be diagnosed with it, but have suffered trauma. I don't know anything else about PTSD, please correct me if I say something completely wrong.)

So... my conclusion to this part? I'll try more to ignore irrational-appearing behaviour, I guess, and not treat people like they're insane when they do "go off on one". Actually, I generally do that anyway - everything other people do is equally incomprehensible.

I realise that most people have suffered severe trauma. Get any group of people in a room, somehow get them to trust one another, and you'll hear some awful stories (especially if those people are women/female assigned, because they have the more hideous side of reproduction to deal with, and of course they're more likely to have been raped).

I say that so I can mention that none of what I would consider the more terrible things have happened to me. I'm not trying to compare my experiences to those of those people, and I'm not going to tell you what I'm talking about. In the scheme of things, it's not important enough for anyone to pursue it.

I am triggered by two things that I know of. One is fairly easy to avoid entirely, and another is everywhere - but, here's the key thing, most normal people slightly dislike it. Like the reformed Discworld vampire who knows that "I'd kill for a cup of coffee" is part of common parlance, I can say "Egad, that's so annoying!"

Of course, that can backfire. On many occasions (actually, it happened a few days ago!) I can say "Egad, that's so annoying!" and lots of other people can agree (Hagrid always does, and he has no idea what happens in my head... well, I guess he does now). However, the perpetrator(s) can then say "Lol! You're all irritated! I'm in a happy and childish mood, so I'm gonna do it some more!!!" which is the kind of humour I'd enjoy (anyone seen that comic by the trans guy that proclaims "Failed to Mature"?) on any other occasion.

So, I'm thinking that... if you're reminded of the Bad Things all the time in daily life... facing them head-on might, counterintuitively, be easier than trying to avoid all related subjects. Because the related feelings appear anyway.

That's probably the conclusion that every mental health professional in the world has come to with ease, but meh. I'm going to ignore it, as I'm sure most people do (just not on the same level I described earlier).

You can probably tell that I'm only typing this because I've nothing else to do - too sick to get up. And very feverish, as you can also probably tell. This wandering train of thought actually started with the Worst Film Adaptation of a Novel Ever Made in the History of Cinema, the film of Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" (the film has a different, goddamned stupid, title, as I'm sure you know).

If you haven't read the books, fine - go and rent the DVD. You'll think it was a reasonable film.

If you have read them, spend an entertaining hundred minutes chewing off your own ears, instead. It will be infinitely less painful.

This cinematic travesty (how is it even possible to hire Nicole Kidman and Ian McKellen! and get something that shite?) is relevant because the story has been systematically stripped of all negativity. Dead child? No, no dead children allowed here, sorry. But the dead child is absolutely vital to the story... quick, play the saccharine music and hope nobody notices that there is now no story!

There's a hideously, appallingly mutilated child, too. That one is even more vital... OK, let's show him for precisely four seconds, with no relevant reactions from any other characters, and move on, and ensure that the film has no atmosphere whatsoever, because then no-one will care about him anyway - LOOK AT OUR CGI!!

My grandmother would certainly enjoy watching that film. But I don't understand what would make it entertaining. The bad guys don't do anything... bad. Well, nothing we can take seriously. So... why are the good guys after them, again? Is it because creepy music plays whenever the bad lady appears, thereby giving them a clue?

By the end of that gloriously cheerful cinematic romp, I'd completely separated its characters from those in the novel, and wouldn't have batted an eyelid if the whole lot of them had exploded.

In fiction, Bad Things musn't be underestimated.

1 comment:

Daphne said...

Excellent post! Especially when written by someone with flu. Where I am in Fort Lauderdale it's all sunshine and palm trees and it's easy to forget that there are any bad things in the world at all.