personal • 27.05.09
By any objective measure I’ve not had a bad life. It has been no worse than most I imagine and probably better than many. It has had enviable features. I have lived free of the perennial scourges, not subject to abuse, torture, war or poverty. I have been blessed with fair attributes. My historical era has known material and social benefits unimaginable to previous generations. Importantly I’ve been free, or at least free to try, to live according to my own set of values.
Yet I'm still dissatisfied. If these objective measures represent a good and privileged life, then why? Well, the flip side is that for all the many benefits I've enjoyed I've also had a lot of shit to endure. I have often not had en easy time of it. The reasons for this are more psychological than material and psychological measures are less objective. They are internal. Analysis suggests I have a disposition towards melancholy which has made some of the relatively mundane trials that bit more perilous.
Ultimately it is how you feel that matters. Even objective measures derive their value initially from feelings. They are measures averaged out across the majority of people. Most having their sufficiency needs met will be happy enough. Most but not all. Some, like me, are differently made. I respond differently. Stuff that might floor others I handle with fortitude, ease even. Stuff that others brush off or get over quickly sticks around in me to be troublesome. The standard crises, from bereavements to bankruptcies, though bad enough didn’t damage me as much as my passing failures in love and work did. They seemed to cut deeper and leave open wounds.
The relationship traumas and the derailment of my career did far more damage than the more elemental tragedies. For twenty-five years I was never free of love trouble. Despite long and complicated relationships I was never able to find the right person. The sheer warring involved in fighting with the wrong ones took a major toll. And although I managed a good run of career success it did finally stall and crash now looking like it won't recover. Over the period I experienced endless rejections and only managed to scrape a meagre living from low status production work. This was a tough call. If Freud’s insight of love and work being the pillars on which a healthy (male?) psyche is correct, to have them crushed is a recipe for unhappiness whether one is of melancholic temperament or not.
I think that mental health is less about what happens to you and more about what you feel about what happens to you. The objective measures can always be undermined one way or another by whatever feelings are issued. My perceived failures in love and work, objective sources of unhappiness in Freud's book, need not have been so devastating had I been able to summon a different attitude to them. They are relative after all. They can be spun according to alternative mindsets positive or negative. Some might see the sheer amount of music work I have done as success in itself; or the stream of women in my life as being something enviable. If that is so it might make the attainment of happiness a tangible task. It is maybe easier to alter the tone of feeling than it is to muster a successful career or find a nurturing partnership. By adopting perspective and being less prone to hijack by the more primal emotions mental health is, at least in theory, achievable. This means altering the balance of head and heart. It means being more appreciative of the positive aspects and whilst not ignoring the negatives relegating them to a less influential place. It is a common-place philosophy this of the kind my mother always advocated. It seemed over-simplistic to me but I just didn't get it then.
mental health is, at least in theory, achievable