Drifting out of lockdown

During my first year of university, in those sweet halcyon days of yore, I was advised that I might benefit from a small course of therapy. Those weren’t the exact words used, mind you, it went more like ‘Lol Adam, you crazy’ but I got the message and was lucky enough to be at an institution that (seemed) to give a damn about mental health.

After being given a lovely form to fill in explaining what I was feeling, a really terrible but efficient way of initial screening, I soon found myself in weekly counselling sessions wherein I would laugh and joke my way through the time, enjoying spurious banter with the counsellor before being told off for my blatant deflection tactic and made to face a home truth or two.

All in all, a positive experience.

As we start to slowly emerge from lockdown (despite all the evidence suggesting it’s a bad idea but hey ho) it’s a perfect time for everyone to quickly pause to think. Evaluate where we are, what we’re doing, and, most importantly, what we want to do. Because after 16 months of sporadic lockdown, illness, incompetence and death, we all need a mental health check. What my friends and I have lovingly dubbed the ‘coronacoaster‘ has taken it’s toll on all of us, whether through the stresses of a new way of living, the reaction to the sadness around us all, or the lack of any control over our worlds.

As normality threatens to return, early it may be, there’s still one question that lots of us need to answer: was normal good enough?

See, I don’t think ‘normal’ was particularly good for our mental health either. We work too much, care too much, get nibbled to death by the dozens of things we have going on like wet bread in a duck pond, and the systems in place aren’t good enough to support our issues.

We have a chance now to stop, if just the briefest of moments, and try to decide what we want. Not just as individuals but as a collective. There’s a crossroads before us, down one fork is a return to the old ways and down the other is something new. Do I know what it is? Nope. Can I guarantee it won’t be hard and shit? Nope. But it’ll be something we made and can improve on. It’ll be ours, not the status quo inherited from the ’90s.

The risk is that if we change nothing, we’ll just continue to drift, mulling along in neutral. I know I feel that I am somewhat. And it’s not because I look around at the scattered remains of the hobbies I picked up and discarded during the last 16 months (we were going through some stuff, allow yourself to have just made it through and be proud of that achievement), but because as we’re beginning to have our freedoms rewarded back to us, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the drive to get back out, to push myself, to develop, and yet feel that to stay still feels awfully like admitting defeat. It’s practically a step backwards when I know I have this chance to do more.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I want you, me, all of us, to embrace this opportunity to make something better for all of us. Easy words, hard in practice. But it’s a nice thought.

When I finished my round of counselling, the lovely man who had been listening to my rambling (and applying a rather pleasing mix of cognitive behavioural therapy techniques and PDM inspired psychodynamics) told me that it seemed to him that I was very likely a sufferer of manic depression. He couldn’t clinically diagnose me but he strongly recommended that I visit a GP as he very much thought a bipolar diagnosis fit my symptoms. He stressed, again, counsellors are not legally able to diagnose their clients (never patients, because that denotes a medical practice and feels really clinical) but if we had to be pushed he’d say the odds were definitely on that I would benefit from a medical diagnosis and medication.

I never went.

I know why. Despite the knowledge that my life could be made infinitely more stable, I’d be able to do more and perhaps finish a project or two, I was scared that it wouldn’t be a difference I’d like. That having ‘manic depression’ on my medical record would limit my chances, the meds would ‘letterbox’ my moods, just as much robbing me of my glorious highs as much as it blunted the debilitating lows. But most of all, it was the fear of something new that could be better but was an unknown.

I should probably start taking those risks.

‘Flag-waving’ patriotism is not the route to restore a Left-wing government

I quite like the Labour party, in theory. A progressive, left-leaning party with an emphasis on protecting the rights of the workers, supporting the needy and, through social schemes, helping those on the lowest rungs of society. Taxes are funnelled into public services, public care, and public works.

It’s a good idea, and one that has proven to work. The Nordic Model, although heavily reliant on a strong labour movement, works hard to find the balance between rigourous welfare systems and a free market economy, allowing a growing economy, social mobility (with government funded assistance), and a safety net for those who may fall through the net.

What I dislike is the idea that the UK Labour Party can only succeed if it takes the form and appearance of the Conservative Party.

The leak of a presentation by PR firm Republic, analysing the public’s view of the Labour party and their views, or rather perceived lack of any strong views and beliefs, caused worry among the left with a call to focus on:

“The use of the flag, veterans, dressing smartly at the war memorial etc give voters a sense of authentic values alignment.”

Now, I’m no political theorist and I’m by no means an authority on the topic (I’d much rather talk about the nightmarish imagery in Thomas the Tank Engine, and I will be writing that blog), but the adoption of the imagery of the right will not save the left. What will happen is the Labour party will continue it’s “slow” movement toward the centre and mediocrity.

Just as the Tories have taken the policies and imagery of UKIP and the BNP from ten years ago (wholesale in some cases), the Labour Party have taken the imagery and policies of the Tories.

Playing on national identity politics is scary, at least in this way. It isn’t creating pride in nationalism, it creates a cult of Fatherlandism. As Britain claims to be “opening up to the world” as we turn our back on the EU (ergh), flag waving and exceptionalism will not engender the world to work with us.

More than being scary, to prioritise slathering the union flag all over your materials as a recruitment tool is incredibly petty and demeaning to the voters. ‘There’s no way people will vote for us unless we’re seen to be as British as possible’, as if that’s the key issue that voters will be dealing with and targeting when they’re looking at who to vote for.

This plan has been lauded as a way for Labour to “win back the red wall”, the traditionally Left leaning constituencies in the north and north east that the Tories took in the wake of the Brexit vote. The reason that these seats were lost in the first place wasn’t due to a lack of flag waving candidates, but due to a total failure of acknowledging what the voters were actually wanting. If you want to win them back, talk to them and find out what they are wanting from a workers party – don’t assume that what people in Grimsby want will be the same as those in the Blyth valley. And don’t even get me going on how disastrously this will go over north of the border where the Scottish Labour Party has already been neutered by the actions of their colleagues in Westminster. And before anyone says anything, I think Welsh labour also teeters on the precipice but that will depend on the Senedd election results.

How else could the Labour party actually win back the public, be patriotic and still attract the votes of the left?

In my opinion, the best flavour of patriotism is where you can see the problems with the country and can see the potential present in the country. “I love this country. It’s not perfect, but it could be. There’s class inequality, poverty, etc., etc., and we want to fix that.” It’s cliched, but it’s a policy, a strong policy with a clear message and target. It’s forward looking and positive. What it doesn’t do is get the veterans out in force and glorifies Britain’s military past.

I have been a staunch defender of Starmer, a more centrist image of the man in a suit but with the voting record of a progressive, liberal, left leaning politician, but since taking over as Leader he’s made a steady move to the middle, retreading the ground the won Blair the 1997 landslide election. But the world has moved on since the late ’90s, we don’t need more Blairite policies, we need a progressive and protective social movement, protecting the NHS and funding for the education system. What they need above all is clear policies and clear PR to push them. A muddled message on the fence is destroying the public face of the party at a time where opposition is needed more than ever.

But most of all, be relatable. The reason BoJo has managed to fail his way to the top is that he’s the “charming” underdog buffoon who just happens to be very well connected behind the scenes. His public persona gets him the popularity required, and his powerful friends keep him there. Starmer has the charisma of wallpaper paste. I don’t know if he’s quick witted, endearing, cold but lovable – his public face is currently just one made of rough brick. If the labour party want to get into power again, it needs a jolly long look at how it sells itself as a force for positivity.

What they don’t need to is to superficially wheel out the old guys wearing medals, like rattles to the idiot babies they think the voters to be.

(This, of course, wouldn’t be such an issue if this stupid union got rid of FPTP and got a decent voting system instead)

The only problem with ‘cancel culture’ is the name

In a week where some politicians have continued their open push against “woke”* culture and people are bemoaning how they have been cancelled (even though they’re doing so from a breakfast TV show with literally millions of people watching), I think it’s only fair that I wade gracefully into the debate like a rhino at a picnic and give you my two cents (that’s about 1.78p for the brexiteers).

*Imagine fighting against being inclusive and kind to people. Most would just call that empathy.

I’m not a fan of blogs that hide their key message at the end of 1500 words so I’ll be up front with what I think:

CANCEL CULTURE’ IS JUST THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR OWN ACTIONS

Was your book deal cancelled with a specific publisher because you were openly racist? That’s your fault. That’s not the result of people kicking up a stink because they don’t like you, that’s literally your doing and entirely down to your own actions. You signed a contract, you broke that contract, you lose your deal.

Are you angry at people because comments you made mocking disabled people led to your sacking? That’s the consequences of your actions. That’s a ‘you’ problem.

The major problem that I have with the notion of cancel culture is the name. It makes it sound frivolous and, worse, that the problem is with those reporting and highlighting the problem than those actually doing the bad things. And by calling it a culture it makes it seem like it’s a small group of people responsible for it, who are going around doing this as part of a trend or fad, with no substance behind it other than trying to be cool to fit in with their friends. Which is a little bit absolutely titting wrong.

Blaming cancel culture for your career going down the toilet is a bizarre and yet surprisingly effective way of shifting the blame from yourself onto an amorphous, faceless group of people who are definitely over-sensitive and one-hundred percent looking to getting offended. It makes the oppressor suddenly appear like the victim and they can demand the sympathy they think they deserve, as well as a seat on the TV show of choice to talk about how they’ve been deplatformed.

If you rephrase it from “I’m a victim of cancel culture” to “I’m a victim of the consequences of my actions” it’s suddenly a lot harder to feel sorry for the person in question (and it’s infinitely more accurate too).

As with all things in the public eye, it’s purely a matter of image control and PR, and that kind of (read: absolutely) annoys me. But worse than that, it saddens me. When people are acting like dicks we should be allowed to be speak out and criticise those actions. When people do wrong they should experience the repercussions of those wrongs. Without that, no one would learn. I’ve done some and said things that I regret and when I recall them I shudder, we all have – but without those learning moments I wouldn’t have been able to evaluate what I’d done, who I’d hurt and how I’d hurt them and grow from it.

Words are powerful. Using them to spin the story to make the oppressor the oppressed and those calling for justice the bullies is dangerous.

Let’s stop saying ‘so-and-so was cancelled’ and start saying ‘so-and-so suffered the consequences of their actions’. It’s more accurate.

Now, the obvious elephant in the room is when toxic fandoms do try very hard to cancel someone who is merely rumoured to have done something wrong or is simply accused without evidence or the full context of the facts (see the brief time the Geoff Ramsey was embroiled in the Ryan Haywood scandal over at RoosterTeeth) or even just because they don’t like the direction that the character has gone in(????). That’s problematic and I’m not qualified to think of a solution or comment, I’m not really qualified to talk about the name and the public relations nightmare that it caused, but I’m far more okay chatting about that.

Ta.

Lockdown isn’t the time to compare your life to others.

The hubbub of the new year is over, the brief and ultimately ridiculous social Christmas is over, and now we have another lockdown stretching out in front of us like a desert road, reaching out over the horizon. Unlike Lockdown 1.0, I and a large number of people I know are not up for it. We’ve used up all the banks of energy and optimism we had saved up, burned through our stash of brave faces and there’s one or two stiff upper lips that are starting to get all wibbly. It’s going to get tougher before it gets better.

And it’s going to get tougher because there are lots of people out there who, during the first lockdown, wrote a big long list of things they were going to do and did it, openly, brashly, and it’s really effing annoying.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ is a quote that’s been attributed to everyone from Teddy Roosevelt to Jesus (and now I’m imagining a combination of the two, riding a moose into a village to heal the sick. It’s a Republican wet dream), but I’m officially announcing my campaign for it to to be the motto of lockdown.

There was this terrible, horribly toxic tweet going round during March and April 2020, back in those halcyon days when motivation and energy was still a thing people had, saying that if you didn’t write that book, start that business, lose that weight, learn that language, etc, you only had yourself to blame. And we all sorta took that as a challenge, at least at first. I tried learning Welsh, gave up, and started again, as well as took up cycling, dieted, and was determined to get my VO career going. The motivation was there and by golly was I going to achieve everything!

And then I didn’t.

And that’s totally okay. You know why?

We’re literally in the middle of a global pandemic. If all you got done was make it through, you’ve achieved something amazing. If you’ve suffered with your mental health and, despite the world being literally on fire, you’re still here and still trudging on, you’ve achieved something amazing. Doing nothing and maintaining a status-quo throughout one of the most tumultuous times in modern history (a global pandemic ruining the normality of routine, the rise of an idiotic, dangerous right wing with obvious contempt for the poor and needy, and an America that looks that it might fracture at many moment) is something you can really be proud of.

Of course, there will be people who have used this 10 month pause to build up business empires, sculpt their figures, or solved all their problems, and they also achieved something amazing. But don’t compare yourselves to them, you will lose sight of how brilliant just surviving right now truly is.

There are a growing number of people who are sneering down their noses at others at how little they think other’s have done in comparison. “You’ve not written a novella? How quaint.” “You put weight ON? I mean, that’s something I guess…” “What was your turnover? What do you mean you’ve not started a business?!” They’re all over social media and, of course, LinkedIn, where they seem to be desperately clamouring for attention and praise.

But you know what? They do deserve the praise and the attention, even admiration. It’s impressive that anyone has done anything during all this, most of all start something new and see it through to the very end. That’s something to be lauded. Just don’t compare yourself to them, you don’t know their situation just as they don’t know yours.

Whether you’ve finished that film script you’ve been writing for years, painted that picture, read a book a month, or just existed by watching Netflix and eating crisps, you’re worthy and are doing well.

In fact. you’re smashing it. Don’t give up now.