Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Normal Service Is Resumed.....

Several weeks ago, the lovely Anticant sent me a list of questions. Then life took over. I am hopeful that life is largely back to some semblance of normality and that blogging duties are now resumed as normal. But I'm not promising. So, Anticant, here are your insightful questions and my considered answers........

Why do you call yourself Ms Melancholy? You don't seem like a gloomy person to me?

I like the post-modern notion that there is no such thing as a 'real' self, but that we are merely a collection of multiple selves: different personal narratives that describe significant ways of experiencing ourselves in the world. Some of my earliest memories are of an acute awareness of the existential void. Meaninglessness coupled with the tyranny of awareness was the bread and butter of my childhood. Clearly I didn't use that particular discourse as a four year old, but the sentiment was there nonetheless.

Having spent many years in therapy trying to 'cure' this melancholic aspect, I eventually came to the realisation that this was neither possible nor desirable. Melancholy is an integral part of my personal narrative, and accepting this has brought me a great richness of experience. I have other, equally valid, selves which are happy and jolly and take great pleasure in being in the world. Ms Jolly Happy never appealed to me though. My favourite piece of music is Mozart's requiem. It could only have been Ms Melancholy.

Did you always want to be a therapist, or did it happen by chance?

Those of us for whom therapy is a vocation, rather than a money-job, would probably agree quietly amongst ourselves that we began our training in pre-school as we tried in vain to heal our unhappy families. For some reason the discipline of psychology tends to pathologise us for this, assuming, presumably, that only the misery-free can act as healer to others. I completely disagree. My personal journey has given me the ability to attune to others' emotional states, and, provided I keep the needs of the client at the core of the process, I think this is A Good Thing.

Like the good, working-class, moderately achieving, sort-of-aspirational, political young woman that I was, I muddled a path through community work, social care and mental health work before finally embarking on my therapy training when I was 29. I have never regretted it, although a little more financial recompense for my labours wouldn't go amiss.

What personal satisfaction strokes do you get from your work?

I think it is a given that being an integral part of someone's personal growth - their 'recovery' if you will - is profoundly satisfying. There is an unexpected benefit to working at a deep emotional level with an individual, however. Sitting quietly, in the moment, simply attuning to and attending to another's emotional state becomes, surprisingly, a transformational experience for the therapist. Neuro psychologists refer to this state as 'limbic resonance' - the experience of vibrating at the same emotional frequency as another being. It has a profound regulatory affect on the client - both at an emotional and physiological level - and ideally they learn to take the experience into other significant relationships. An unexpected benefit for the therapist is that exactly the same thing happens for them. It's a two-way street: that's how relationships work. Shhh, don't tell anyone though. That's our secret.

What do you like most about where you live?

No surprise here.....easy access to the most wonderful walking country in the Yorkshire Dales. The melancholic part of me loves the wild, barren moorland and the jolly-happy me loves the green, fertile valleys of the Dales. I have a favourite spot: watching the sun go down behind Pen-Y-Ghent, high up on a moorland road listening to the curlews and lapwings. Sheer bliss. Having spent the best part of 20 years living in cities it is an absolute joy to live in this part of the world again. (Immensely difficult to find mung bean noodles, though.)

If you had 3 months sabbatical, with enough money and the freedom to do whatever you wanted, what would you choose?

I love Latin cultures - that fab mix of politics, passion and manana - so it would have to be 3 months in Costa Rica. El Coco in Guanacaste province is a rinky dink little seaside town, filled with partying Ticos at the weekend and sleepy as a graveyard during the week. You can eat barbecued fish at a shack on the beach and listen to the howler monkeys in the nearby jungle, whilst watching the world go by at any pace you want. I would read all of the stuff that is piled on my 'to read' shelf, and probably try my hand at writing. But mostly I would just potter and swing in a hammock, watching iguanas and humming birds and smile knowingly at the existential void.

And if anyone wants to be interviewed, please email me and I will attempt to come up with a list of probing questions for you.....


anticant said...

Better late than never, Ms M - MUCH better!

The only real surprise, for me, is your remark that there is an assumption somewhere [surely not amongst psychologists, though that's what you imply] that "only the misery-free can act as healer to others". I don't believe there is such an inhuman phenomenon as a misery-free person, and if there was I'd run a mile from them - most of all if they aspired to be my therapist!

Yes, you are very lucky to live where you do. A great friend of mine used to own a wonderful 17th century house in Settle, called "The Folly", and I've spent many happy holidays traversing the Coal Road over the fells past Dent Station - the highest in England.

Fear I couldn't make it to Costa Rica, but three months in Italy or Southern Spain would be just my ticket. [Until the McCanns traumatised it, I would have said Praia da Luz, where I've also spent several happy holidays. Now, alas, it's become the jinxed Portuguese equivalent of Saddleworth Moor, which was my grandmother's ancestral home].

BTW, I'm actively back in the Burrow, though not posting much in the Arena at the moment.

anticant said...

PS You could make that six months if you like!

trousers said...

This was wonderful to read Ms M. Thanks to anticant for those questions of course, but those answers are quite remarkable. Especially the first part of the first answer (re: childhood). Speaks volumes to me.

Caroline said...

Great questions and answers and wonderful to see you blogging again again honey.


Ms Melancholy said...

Hi anticant, yes better late than never!! I have heard this view expressed several times by psychologists, who of course are not required to have their own therapy in order to practice. Psychiatric nurses often take a similar view.....I do think there is a lot of tension between those who see themselves as in the medical profession, and those of us who train in humanistic psychotherapy. I agree with you that I also run a mile from the chronically cheerful!

I shall shortly be moving out into the middle of the Dales - I really can't wait and will send you some piccies as soon as I am installed!

I too love Italy and Southern Spain. I have a sister in Italy and I have had some very happy holidays there spending a couple of weeks getting rotund!

Lovely to be back in the blogging world again. Will visit you shortly x

Hi trousers, yes....you work in mental health don't you? There but for the grace of god, I always think.....x

Hi darling Cas, lovely to be back. I hope that normal service is now resumed x

That's so pants said...

Hi Ms M

Welcome back. The sophistication of your self awareness is staggering. I have never been in therapy, nor have I ever had a desire to. In my case ignorance has proved bliss. Luckily for me, my anti-social nature has never been a problem, but it wasn't until I read Anthony Storr that I realised it was also quite normal. Lovely and revealing, as always.



Graffiti said...

Can therapy be a vocation and a money job?


Ms Melancholy said...

Hi lovely Pants, I rather suspect that therapy might have spoiled you....keep breaking those rules, honey x

Hi there Graffiti, I bloody well hope not!

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

A wonderful and thoughtful and interesting read, Ms M - thank you.

You say: "we are merely a collection of multiple selves". Hmm, yes, I relate, I often told my therapist I was an entire tea party all by myself!

Good to see you back - you've been missed.

Calamity Jane said...

Mung bean noodles - ha! I'll be passing fairly close on my way up to Durham next week - want me to fling some out the window on the way past for you?

Ms Melancholy said...

Hey Vanilla, sounds fab! Just the kind of therapy I love. And thanks for the welcome back.

Hi Calamity Jane, god, yes please! Much appreciated.

Paul said...

"We are merely a collection of multiple selves" - Or perhaps through the roles we choose and those that are thrust on us, we begin to learn and to explore, come to understand, and even define our true selves.
For some of us the existential element (the Why) will not go away, no matter how much we may want it to.

Grande Poobah said...


enjoyed reading your post enormously (as a former child shrink who's now jumped ship to corporate land). Much of what you say resonates with me.

keep on bloggin'


Cheri Mae said...

Thank you for your thoughts on therapy and psychology. I'm just beginning to study psychology and my career goal is to be a psychotherapist. I'm so glad I found your blog.

Ms Melancholy said...

Hi Paul, I am still a bit reluctant to believe in the 'true self', although I take your general point. The concept of multiple selves soothes me, for some reason. Perhaps I have a DID??!

Hey GP and CM, many thanks! Sorry for the delay in responding x

פסיכיאטר said...

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