Before you get started on reading this, I really do strongly recommend you go get yourself your preferred beverage and find yourself a quiet spot to read without interruption. Oh and strap in for a bumpy ride. I’ve got some stuff to talk about.
Anxiety. Depression. Suicide. Self-harm. Bullying. Assault. Rape. These can all be really difficult topics to talk about. Whether it be a conversation amongst adults, one that an adult needs to have with their child or child with an adult. They are all topics that are hard to talk about. They’re not nice things. In fact, they are downright horrible things that I wouldn’t wish to happen to anyone. To give you some context on why I’m talking about this, I’ve been watching a Netflix show these last few weeks that explores exactly these topics as they happen to teenagers. The show itself has had mixed reviews from extremes where the show’s producers are being applauded for bringing these issues to the forefront, generating really important conversations, to the other extent where they are criticized for bring these issues to life so graphically through TV. Personally, I applaud what they have done. I feel like they have approached it incredibly responsibly through setting up help resources through their website, by having the actors talk about the issues that are going to be addressed, with a warning that perhaps if you are going through something similar, maybe it’s not the right time for you to be watching.
What I find fascinating is the criticism this show has faced and I honestly wondered why, especially after watching the first season (I’ve just finished the second and wait in anticipation for the third that I suspect will address the issues of gun control and school shootings). I wondered if those criticizing the show were in fact scared of discussing the issues it brought up as they relate to teenagers. I look at my own experiences with anxiety and bullying. Those things have occurred in my adult years, and while I was also subject to bullying at school, (let’s face it, who didn’t – most kids are arseholes), I don’t feel like I’ve had the same long-lasting effects to those experiences as I’ve had in my adult years. In fact, I actually had to have a really good look through my brain’s filing system of memories about my school experiences to remember if there had been any of these issues at school.
There are people in my circle who have suffered terribly from depression, that have attempted suicide or have considered it, all in their adult years. Assault and rape occurs every day, you only have to watch the daily news to see that, but should the age of the victims really have any bearing on the conversation? While the age of a victim can certainly make the situation more shocking, these things shouldn’t happen to anyone. Getting back to the criticism faced by the show, does this show make these issues all the more confronting because these things are being portrayed as happening to teenagers? Is it making people actually confront their own behaviours and they don’t like what they see? Have they been the bully in the workplace or at home? Have they been the assailant? Or to the opposite extent, are they the adult suffering from anxiety and depression as a result of any of the issues discussed in the show and they feel like they can’t talk about it?
I say it’s time to turn on the lights, step out into the open and have these conversations with anyone who will listen. Something that all of these topics have in common is the ability to make the sufferer feel like they are completely alone. The social stigma of these things only adds to the loneliness of it all. The conversation you have with people about any of these topics, firstly makes you feel like you aren’t alone. Secondly, it can give you something else to think about, a distraction so to speak, by hearing a different perspective. I found myself having a conversation with a complete stranger last week about my anxiety. I’d just finished my hour -long float and was feeling as chilled out as 10 chilled out things. The other person initiated the conversation by asking if it was my first float and what made me want to do it. Without skipping a beat, I told them that I suffered from anxiety and a monthly float really helped calm and reset my brain. This person was great to speak to because I felt like I’d just told them I take milk in my coffee. My answer did not surprise them, or if it did, they showed no sign of it surprising them. It felt like a normal conversation and it was great to have.
Have you ever tried to have a really hard conversation with a close friend? A family member? The conversation often ends up where one person walks away offended, looking like they are incredibly stubborn and are unable to see another point of view. I think society in general looks like this whenever the topics in the Netflix show come up. So why? Why do people look this way when challenged with a particularly challenging topic? I think it is fear. Fear of what they might learn about their own behaviours. Fear of what they might learn about themselves or those close to them. The same reason that people become bullies. FEAR. Don’t get me wrong, fear is a natural emotion to have but when your fear starts to impact on others through exhibited behaviours, you should expect to be challenged. If you go through life unchallenged, how do you expect to evolve? How do your values change shape to your current environment and to the way you want to live? I often find myself challenging my own deep seeded values. These are the values which I was taught to live by as a child. Sometimes I am downright ashamed of myself for continuing to hold these values because some of them serve no purpose in the way I want to live or think I want to live, but I also realise that in order for that value set to evolve, they must be challenged. If that’s by me or someone else, it doesn’t really matter, as long as they are brought into the light and examined for what they are and what purpose they serve. What I find incredibly frustrating now, is that poor behavior is rarely challenged. The person exhibiting the poor behavior then continues unchecked becoming an even bigger arsehole as their confidence in behaving that way skyrockets. Have you ever been introduced to someone but you get a pre-warning “oh you’re about to meet Charlie, he’s a bit unique but you’ll get used to it”. It’s like saying “Charlie’s an arse but no one will ever check him on his behaviours because that’s just who he is … an arse”. There are so many Charlie’s in the world getting by on their poor behaviours because no one has ever had the courage or seen the need to call them on it.
This has actually been a massive struggle for me to write this month. This has been a challenging topic with many, many, many, many rabbit holes to go down. I knew where I wanted to start but wasn’t overly sure where I was going to finish. While I was writing this, Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered on a Melbourne soccer field only 900m from her home, which brought up the debate of victim blaming through focusing on what women can do to make themselves feel safer, while not really addressing the cause of the problem. To be honest, I don’t think society is comfortable with identifying what that problem actually is, hence the perceived victim blaming (for the record, I think it is victim blaming because that’s the easier thing to do …. Look out!! Rabbit hole!!!). This could easily be wrapped up into this discussion here, however, I feel it is a rather big one and probably worthy of it’s own discussion rather than be included in this one.
The crux of what I trying to get at here, is difficult conversations and the reasons why people may fight to not be a part of them. Hands down, I have no doubts that it is fear. On both sides. Fear from the person who wants to bring it up, and fear from the person being challenged. Whatever the topic, it will always be the elephant in the room, approach it with love, not fear. Understanding rather than accusation. You may just get those things back in return, making the conversation easier to have and setting a foundation for having those other difficult conversations that society just can’t seem to have. Normalising the uncomfortable topics. Making them ok to talk about. It’s stretching that hard conversation muscle. You know the one I’m talking about. The cost of not having that difficult conversation can have ongoing effects. It could manifest into physical symptoms, added emotional stress, the continuing of the behavior that was causing the conflict in the first place. It’s the old chestnut “if they don’t know, how do you expect the behavior to change?”.
If you have read this far, thanks for staying the course and running through the rabbit warren with me. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.