In the spirit of not letting mental illness define yourself or how you see other people. Diagnosis isn’t a label or an identity. That is what 2016 taught me.
In 2004, my father died.
And Ottawa became a city of ghosts for me, full of empty pockets of memories tarred by loss. But if I thought it was the city that was haunted, I was sadly mistaken. I am the one who is haunted. By my father, by my old life, by the truth that life is nothing like what I had once imagined. No matter where I travel, run or hide these specters will follow and I have had to accept that they are constant companions. That’s the thing about sadness, it is selfish and will always need to be felt.
I remember the city of ghosts was once a beautiful place I called home and could not have fathomed leaving the way I did. I sat in the taxi and waited in the airport to board a flight and never come back and all the while it poured down, as if the city were weeping. I think it did for both of us.
Because once my father died, so too did the city. The ice-laden hills I once rode my toboggan down seemed colder and lonelier than before, Dow’s lake where we took paddle boat rides every summer became nothing but a reminder of a ship one man down.
Now there’s a ghost everywhere I go. Every milestone, every achievement is tainted bitter with the taste of emptiness…something or someone is always missing. Amid a sea of proud families at graduation, standing among fellow students donned in black robes signifying an accomplishment to take pride in, I could only see an empty seat in the audience, right next to my mother. I know she feels it too…but we never talk about it.
So today, I drink the poison his once dilapidated kidneys could never have filtered, never did. Suck in sickly sweet air from a cigarette with the same lips that said good night to him one last time.
Life goes on…
but it’s just not the same.
In appreciation of Kid Flash’s debut on The Flash Season 3 🙂 Can’t wait for October 4th!
The motto of Holocaust literature, in its horrifying but electrifyingly necessary recount of the suffering of Jews particularly in concentration camps, is ‘never forget’. Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, wrote his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ in the spirit of not only remembering the Holocaust but also in moving on, with his philosophical musing and discussion regarding his own form of existential analysis called logotherapy.
Essentially, the purpose of this book is describe and analyse the psychological reactions of the average concentration camp prisoner as well as to elucidate the development of logotherapy stemming from Frankl’s own experiences in such concentration camps where he was separated from and lost his father, mother, brother and wife, having been ‘stripped to naked existence’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7). These experiences influenced Frankl’s philosophical thoughts which were the foundation upon which logotherapy was developed as a means of therapeutic intervention.
The book is divided into two parts i.e. ‘Experiences in a Concentration Camp’ and ‘Logotherapy in a Nutshell’. In the first part, Frankl narrates various experiences as he was transported from different concentration camps including the daunting Auschwitz to less perilous rest camps. One of Frankl’s major arguments in this part of the book is that the psychological reactions to life in a concentration camp are summarily divided into three distinct phases.
In the period following an inmate’s formal admission to the camp, the characteristic symptom is that of shock in this first phase and under certain circumstances it may even precede the formal admission. The second phase, when a prisoner is entrenched in camp life, is that of apathy or the blunting of one’s emotions which are primarily centred on preserving one’s life. Apathy, notes Frankl, acts as a protective shell for the inmate who was constantly surrounded by an environment characterised by perpetual illness, violence and maltreatment. Finally, the third phase is that of depersonalisation, upon liberation from the death camps, which is described as ‘unreal, unlikely, as in a dream’ (Frankl, 1984, p. 96).
The second part of the book focuses on the concepts and principles of logotherapy. According to Alport (1984), Dr. Frankl asks patients who have suffered from torment why they do not commit suicide and based on their responses he identifies something worth tying their lives to. For a widow, her life could be tied to her children or for a struggling artist it could be his or her especial talent. Hence the object and challenge of logotherapy is ‘to weave these slender threads of a broken life into a pattern of meaning and responsibility’ (Frankl, 1984 pp.7).
While Man’s Search for Meaning was written in a different historical period with a climate quite different from that of the modern world today, it still remains relevant and can be connecting to various fields including health psychology, clinical psychology and social psychology.
The impact of hope for the future on one’s survival was described in the novel where it was described that a senior warden had a dream that the Second World War would end on March 30th, 1945 and this dream gave him hope that he would be free. Yet, when the date drew closer it became apparent that the war would not end and they would not be liberated. This was a devastating blow to the senior warden’s hope and belief, making him vulnerable to illness and unfortunately he succumbed and passed away on March 31st, 1945. The same ramifications of mental strength and hope can be seen in the fight against cancer. In health psychology studies, it has been found that chemotherapy is only effective in a certain portion of cancer patients since their psychological makeup such as depression and hopelessness affect their fight against the disease. This is how Frankl’s experience is reminiscent of the biopsychosocial model in health psychology where health is determined by not merely biological factors but also psychological factors of an individual.
Frankl also made keen observations regarding prisoner identity. He wrote, “The authorities were interested only in the captives’ numbers. These numbers were often tattooed on their skin, and also had to be sewn to a certain spot on the trousers, jacket, or coat. Any guard who wanted to make a charge against a prisoner just glanced at his number; he never asked for his name.” (Frankl, 1984, p. 19). This observation is relevant to the study of identity transformation among prisoners, applicable to the modern world. In fact, this has been a studied in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo wherein the jailers would command the prisoners to repeat their respective numbers, drilling it until the number was synonymous to their selves and some prisoners equated their numbers to their identity so quickly that they even began to sign their letters using their numbers as opposed to their names (Alvarez, 2015). This synonymy is not necessarily only in prison set ups but also in large educational institutions such as universities where students are assigned roll numbers for official purposes and on spending significant time identifying themselves through these roll numbers, there may be identity suspension.
Frankl maintains that one can remain true to his or herself and find meaning within their life. However, he contradicts this by writing, “…I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.” (Frankl, 1984, p.27). Can it not be the case that there are dual lives and respective identities at play and that meaning in pre-prison life can be different to post prison meaning? Schmid and Jones (1991) studied prison identity and found that there indeed was a duality of selves i.e the coexistence and conflict between an individual’s ‘true identity’ prior to being admitted into a maximum security facility and the prisoner’s ‘false identity’ within the prison. Hence the stability of meaning is not guaranteed since even the concept of self is not a single stable entity.
Suffice to say, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is an interesting read for psychology majors because of the plethora of connections that can be made to other theories and phenomena in the field and in understanding how Viktor Frankl’s harrowing experiences have been transformed into a means of therapy, perhaps his own sublimation of personal trauma for the betterment of society through his existential philosophy.
Dear J.K Rowling,
I sincerely enjoyed with every fibre of my being the series you created, so much so that it has defined me as a person today. I dressed up as Hermione for Halloween two years in a row, felt the crushing disappointment of having waited in line for copies of the books and tickets to the movies to no avail, re-read the series as a college student looking for a window to the past and I thank you for all of this and more. Having grown up in the Potter generation and proudly identifying as a Potterhead, my curiosity was piqued upon hearing about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, so I went out and bought a copy the day it was released. I regret to say that I wished I hadn’t. I need to tell you that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was an utter disappointment and I feel betrayed that this has even been performed on stage much less published.
This script cannot and should not be marketed as the eighth story in the Harry Potter series, and since it has been monstrously tagged as such, I feel the need to compare it to a gangrene infected foot that needs to be cut off in order to preserve the rest of the body i.e the original series. The Cursed Child seems like a parasitic invasion of your wonderfully crafted Wizarding World with your stamp of approval which makes your judgement highly questionable. It does nothing but pander to fan expectations, reading like author-approved fan fiction with co-authors pitching in. You’ve made your money and now Cursed Child is a further ploy to rake in extra cash from the fans who are easily susceptible to dish it out.
It’s a light read in the sense that I cannot for the life of me take it seriously and while I read it I couldn’t help but ponder over the poor trees that had to be felled in order for this to be printed. This parallels a nicotine patch for smokers, anything Potter related is more than welcome especially after the number of years that have passed since the 7th book was released. But I want the damn cigarettes not the nauseating nicotine gum laced with cinnamon that is The Cursed Child. If I can’t have the real thing, I don’t want anything else.
It’s very obvious that you’re trying to keep Harry Potter relevant, what with all the new snippets of information regarding the series and new short stories via your Twitter feed and Pottermore, but the fact is it needs to be left alone. We never forgot, we’re all still at Hogwarts after all these years.
an outraged Ravenclaw
p.s Weasley is our king. You have successfully destroyed one of my favourite characters a.k.a Ron, having reduced him to nothing but mere comedic relief and filtering out all substance. You have created a character I love and utterly mistreated him, something I don’t quite know how to forgive.
Also, dear reader this article is so relevant. Give it a read, if you agree with the above epistolary rant.
So as it turns out I really love drawing diagrams of the brain…started with monochrome in class to watercolours on a day at home 🙂
The day felt like peppermint tea and poetry written by a recluse poet as the sky purpled with hints of grey at the edges of frayed clouds.
The days of playing pretend were supposedly over twelve years ago but playing tourist in a city you’ve been living in for the past three years can be an invigorating adventure, rediscovering the old haunts and some new places you’d been postponing to visit for ever so long.
In some majestic buildings justice is served and we can only hope that the deliverers are as upright-morally- as those tall structures.
p.s Photographs of tree from down below, with the sun glinting through the branches, are some of favourites. Here’s one.
p.p.s It’s fun to explore and just wander. Do it on a Sunday.
To new beginnings in familiar places…what goes around comes around.
7th June, 2016: We wheeled ourselves into a haphazard circle on a sunny afternoon in the midst of reddish dirt and wisps of dried grass. The breeze swept carefully tucked hair and long dresses up ever so slightly, teasing us all, playful. We turned like a merry-go-round in third gear, a carousel of chit chat about us. There’s just something about small talk, especially when it no longer feels so small…
8th June, 2016: Old faces in new places have made me feel somewhat dizzy, a retrospect looming. I’m beginning to feel like the world is a little pocket, occasionally stuffed with the old acquaintance or childhood friend who once played pretend with me, scribbling with crayons just outside the box. Coincidences are funny and it’s quite a jest to welcome, even if it’s met with some old-fashioned and long learned apprehension.
9th June, 2016: An unconventional end befell my collection of books stored away in boxes 575 kilometers away, in the form of insects with an unfortunate appetite for moist pages…dampened by the careless faucet left leaking in the upstairs flat,water dripping its way down the cracked cement. Sometimes it’s better to forget rather than be maudlin and so I’ve taken to technology for my reading, an artifice in its screen and font adjustments, replacing the paperbacks and hardcovers. Although it warmed up to me, I think I like to romanticize the past and the people boxed away in it, love them as I do.
10th June, 2016: The sound of clanging forks and chit chat is the perfect backdrop for a bit of light reading, as a cup of tea sits upon the table. The breeze is dotted with drizzle as the finished paper cup threatens to totter over just shy of the large windows. Perfect weather can make for less of a dull time, ticking away in an otherwise unoccupied hour here and now. A recipe for renewal.
11th June, 2016: Thumbing pages of books and notepads has become second nature, a tell tale sign of my mind wandering. A friend asked me if it calmed me down but quite the contrary, I think it makes me feel all the more elated, alive with ideas and quaint possibilities.
I had a lovely summer, finally with some free time and I graduated from college, so I’d chalk that up to a good time.
Church Street milling with people mid day is where I found myself, disappearing into the throng, walking with no place to go until I met a friend and we sat ourselves down to catch up on everything we’d been missing, long been kept from enjoying time off, no pressing deadlines or harried hellos and goodbyes. We’d been through some hell of a ringer and came out clean on the other side. And in that late afternoon, we sat outside a cafe, smelling of cinammon in the air. The smell of nicotine intermingled as we sucked on pale white cigarettes, vestiges of lipstick with names like wine festival and bold crimson caressing the tips. And I remember thinking, summer smells so sweet.
Light filtered through kaleidoscope tinted sky lights, and the light buzz of beer was coloured with reds, blues and bright yellows. Behind me were little wooden houses, brightly painted and in rows perched on shelves lined till the ceiling where the colours of the stained glass danced upon them as if for tiny little people. And on many occasions, we all feel tinier than we are but with a couple of beers in hand and bowling drunkenly afterwards, the brightly coloured bowling balls sloping ever always to the right, we could not have felt any bigger than at that very moment.
Trees blooming with pink flowers are such a sight to see and one of my favourites, even when a tram is zipping me by so fast I couldn’t hold on to take a picture fast enough. Thankfully I did. And with a lake spread out before my eyes and fishermen waiting for the long haul not too far away, I felt like a tiny dot among the crowd, in a way that made me realize we’re all trying and we’re all okay.
Some of the songs I’ve been listening to lately…
- The Call by Regina Spektor
- Down the Line by Julia and the Doogans
- Renegades by X Ambassadors
- Dreams by The Cranberries
- Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap
- Unsteady (Erich Lee Gravity Remix) by X Ambassadors
- Us by Regina Spektor
- The Sound by The 1975
- Nighlight by Silversun Pickups
- Not Today by The Imagine Dragons
- For Your Love by Josh Record
p.s I adore Regina Spektor, X Ambassadors and Julia and the Doogans. Please check them out 🙂
p.p.s Me Before You has a wonderful OST