Thought Connections: REM Through Sartre to Freud and Back Again

Hey, Kids, rock and roll,

Nobody tells you where to go,

Baby.

We talk about happiness as if we’re all talking about the same thing. I’m not throwing down the gauntlet of deconstructionism. The gauntlet is a glove a captive raptor is compliantly enticed to in a brief bid to break the tedium.

Happiness is one of those unpinpointable conceptions with no single satisfactory definition. It has many near-synonyms which, taken all together, still fall short of an every-eventuality-covering catalogue of terms akin to the mythical number of Inuit-Yupik-Aleut words for snow. I literally love alliteration.

Happiness isn’t even a thing. It’s a response. And each response is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the next. It slides around a non-linear emotional spectrum with love and distrust. I’m ever so slightly obsessed with Gaussian bell curves. They are beautifully simple graphs to imagine, and – to my mind – they contain all our myriad differences and similarities. In their multiples they configure a child’s whirring-spinning top, their medians a collective point of origin about which all others turn. No one curve remains static. They oscillate through each other as if they were electromagnetic waves, extending the plane of symmetry along the X-axis out beyond the carousel’s leading edge, retrograde like the rings of Saturn. Approaching the farthest, silent reaches of centrifugal force, or inertia, float the aspernauts.

Tuesday was International Asperger’s Day. Is it weird to wish a dead guy ‘happy belated birthday’. Yes, I think it is; even one who only attracted a certain sort of fame and enduring controversy posthumously. I was 6 when he died; already two years older than the age at which my son was given his official ASD member’s badge and waved back along the corridor. I was already well on my way to self-destruction before Asperger Syndrome even made it into the International Classification of Diseases or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And just like Kanner’s diagnostic description of classical autism, it’s still largely based on male profiling and presentation. The Second Sex: Sartre’s philosopher-lover was acutely aware of that harsh irony. It’s all too usual for an AS or atypical female to be recognised as such only on the back of a male relative’s diagnosis of autism.

How did Freud get so much professional attention? Wasn’t he unhealthily obsessed with his mother? Psychoanalysis isn’t exactly my area (I’m yet to figure out exactly what is) but I do know that he and Jung were both influenced by Kierkegaard who believed that freedom, which one might assume to be a pre-requisite of happiness, was actually the root of all anxiety. Heidegger was also heavily influenced by Kierkegaard – and he joined the Nazi party. That descent of thought brings me back to Sartre who, allegedly, held on to some terrorist sympathies, which forced his previously good friend,  Camus, to finally break all ties with him. Albert never used his return train ticket.  That rock. That fucking rock haunts me. Existentialist parties are perpetual pill-popping riots!

Eastern philosophy tells a different version of the same tale: the ego has to be overcome in a relentless round of rebirths in order to achieve Nirvana. I already came the closest I’ll ever come to Nirvana. High as a kite in a sodden field beside the Thames, in a throng of thousands, jumping to Lithium. A little under two years later, Kurt Cobain was dead.

Hey, Kids, where are you?

Nobody tells you what to do,

Baby.

There was a time when I wouldn’t even open the door to people, let alone invite anyone into my head. I periodically unplugged the phone and disappeared under the quilt for days on end. The world was something outside my window and I drew the curtains so I didn’t have to look at it or be looked back at. It would be tedious, self-indulgent and unhealthy to pull back that quilt or test the temperature of that bath water now. And anyway, I was later saved from myself.

Once I’d raised my concerns about my son, I had to follow through and start talking. You want to talk about obsessions? Depression? Anxiety? Drugs? Fear? Failure? Bad decisions? Loneliness?… Bodily functions maybe?… Sure, why not?! We’ve sat in so many consulting rooms and had so many ‘professional’ strangers make themselves at home on our sofa, asking us such deeply personal questions that I’ve just become desensitised to it all. Just in time to receive the full force of the epiphanic curveball that struck me. Right between the eyes. It’s ‘unsettling’ to be so suddenly flooded with hundreds of flash card memories and, with them, the realization that I never even recognised, much less understood, not just something but – the thing  so very fundamental about my own self.

I’m still a long way from feeling fully liberated. I need to remember more, talk some more, be tested some more.  But happiness resides in anticipation. The anticipation of finding answers to long-forgotten questions that I simply stopped asking myself; reaching a clearer, deeper understanding of why I am the way that I am; and finally making peace with myself. In the meantime, I’ll continue to find my happiness in other people – in my husband and in our son. In our dog and the cat; in coffee cake and hazelnut-chocolate sandwiches, birdsong and speckled sunlight on forest floors, Spring rain and afternoons spent playing in the garden…

Hey, Kids, shake a leg!

Maybe you’re crazy in the head,

Baby.

Maybe I ride, maybe you walk,

Maybe I drive to get off,

Baby.