Hopefully if you read last week’s Monday blogpost you were able to realize self-reflection (leading to a greater level of self-awareness) is a pretty crucial element of my idea of striving for a healthy mental state. Last week, I focused on journaling and how that can provide a method for some much-needed processing. For journaling, I’ve noticed that I have to be intentional about the time I set aside, or else I rarely enter into that state of self-reflection. I usually journal early in the morning (or sometimes late at night), when I am by myself, because I feel like that is the best time for me to enter into a state of authentic self-reflection and focus upon things related to my state of mental-health.
However, this past Saturday I entered into a rather high level of self-reflection (that in and of itself is not at all uncommon for me due to my frequent journaling) but this time I was in a fairly tiny room surrounded by lots of people, most of whom I’d never even seen before. I spent this past weekend in Halifax, (partially because one of my best friends is attending school there and I would jump at any opportunity I had to go visit her, but also because I needed to intentionally do something to break a negative cycle I had found myself entering) and one thing that I did while there was go to a theatre production put on by students of Kings University.
The show was called 4.48 Psychosis, written by Sarah Kane. Any summary I can come up with will by no means do justice to the beauty and depth put into it by the playwright (and subsequent directors who have worked with the play), but I’ll try to give a basic overview of it:
My initial reaction is it’s a play about mental-health. So, great!, it fits perfectly in with this article-theme...but that would not really distinguish it from any other play, as EVERY play (that is, essentially every element of life) includes elements of mental-health…some are just less obvious than others. 4.48 Psychosis, in its original form, was written more as a narrative story than as a play. That is, there are no characters, and thus no dialogue. The “script” itself is not even divided into distinguishable speaking parts. It looks a lot more like a long poem, or broken narrative, than a play. Directors who have worked with the play, or at least the [incredibly powerful and moving] version that I saw of it the other night, have chosen to divide the text amongst multiple characters while maintaining one role that is the obvious lead.
The lead (played by a female in the version that I saw), in a somewhat convoluted and indirect way, shares her struggle with depression. She views “4:48” [am] as the time “when depression visits” and she struggles to overcome her negative thoughts, particularly the temptation to use suicide as a means to escape both morality and reality. The play then seems to jump forward (that is, backward) to the time she spent receiving psychiatric and medical help. Evoking an incredible amount of emotion, she explains the difficulty of communicating her innermost thoughts to her doctors— “Please. Don't switch off my mind by attempting to straighten me out. Listen and understand, and when you feel contempt don't express it, at least not verbally, at least not to me.” She also expresses the frustration she experienced while trying to discover the proper medication for her. She continues to talk of how she is “loving” one who is “absent”, or in other words, she is loving someone who is not present in her life. At a different point in the play, she makes the connection that she herself is not present in her own life, that her mind and her body have been separated from each other. It could be said, then, that (while she is attempting to love herself) she is unable to love herself due to some unexplainable absence. It was heart-breaking to experience these feelings and emotions with her as I sat in my theatre seat.
While the play as a whole can undoubtedly be described as being filled with an immeasurable amount of emotional brokenness (my heart felt as if it was continually being broken and re-broken), I also saw the play as containing the potentially for immeasurable beauty. Particularly in the closing line “It is myself I have never met, whose face is pasted on the underside of my mind. Please open the curtains.” She is making a motion for change. Here, the character wants to discover herself. Here, she seeks to be able to recognize her own face. Here, she seeks self-identity.
And so I was sitting at this theatre, watching this play, surrounded by people I didn’t even know, and I found myself entering into this state of immense self-reflection. For just one example, I started wondering how my own struggle to work toward and ultimately maintain a healthy mental-state has influenced me in ways I have not entirely realized.
A friend and I tried to process various aspects of the play with each other. She and I agreed that, while there was a lot of material within the play that hit extremely close to home for us, there were also aspects that we had never experienced, and hopefully never will. This reflection helped me realize that we’ve all had our struggles just as much as we’ve all had our successes. We’ve endured hardship—even if we think our own life struggles are small and insignificant; we’ve had some degree of pain in our lives that we can use to relate to the pain of others. Yes, everyone’s pain is different, but everyone’s pain is…well, painful. As I watched 4:48 Psychosis I witnessed the pain of a character in an “extreme” depressive state, and I simultaneously recalled the pain brought about by some of my own states. They are indeed different, but they are both painful, and so they were both one in that.
While sometimes beneficial to working toward mental health, I don’t necessarily think it takes the professional diagnosis of a specific mental illness for an individual to recognize there are ways that s/he can improve the state of his/her mental health. I can’t pretend to know all the answers to improving one’s mental-health. But I CAN say there was one line of the play that stuck out to me as at least a partial solution: “Remember the light and believe the light.”
There’s something powerful about reflecting on the positive moments in our life; there’s something incredible about not only remembering the light of those positive moments, but in believing the light about them. Trust people’s words when they say “I care,” “I love you,” or “I want to help” because I think there is something powerful in remembering the light and believing that light. Do you?
Let me close this blog with an excerpt from the Sarah Kane’s play “4.48 Psychosis.” I want to use these lines as a wish for myself and for you. May we all be in continuous journey toward a healthy mental-state in which we are able to vow:
“to achieve goals and ambitions
to overcome obstacles and attain a high standard
to increase self-regard by the successful exercise of talent
to overcome opposition
to have control and influence over others
to defend myself
to defend my psychological space
to vindicate the ego
to receive attention
to be seen and heard
to excite, amaze, fascinate, shock, intrigue, amuse, entertain, or entice others
to be free from social restrictions to resist coercion and constriction
to be independent and act according
to desire to defy convention to avoid pain
to avoid shame
to obliterate past humiliation by resumed action
to maintain self-respect
to repress fear
to overcome weakness
to be accepted
to draw close and enjoyably reciprocate with another
to converse in a friendly manner,
to tell stories, exchange sentiments, ideas, secrets
to communicate, to converse
to laugh and make jokes
to win affection of desired Other
to adhere and remain loyal to Other
to enjoy sensuous experiences with cathected Other
to feed, help, protect, comfort, console, support, nurse or heal
to be fed, helped, protected, comforted, consoled, supported, nursed or healed
to form mutually enjoyable, enduring, cooperating and reciprocating relationship with Other, with an equal
to be forgiven, to be loved, to be free.”
Thanks for reading! Please share any and all comments/questions, etc. :)