Wednesday 18 March 2015

The whips and scorns of time

I finally worked out who Bradley Cooper was the other day. Yes, I know - I have been living under a rock. Last Saturday, my husband and I watched him and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, a quirky rom-com about two young people with mental health issues who [spoiler alert] end up falling in love. The message we took away was that most of us harbour a little craziness, whether we paddle away mid-stream or occasionally sink beneath the flow.

"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday - that's guaranteed," Pat (Bradley Cooper) told us in the final scene. "I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday's my favourite day again."

Girl staring at her reflection in water
"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday..."
Credit: Will Lam

Oddly, I found this quotation comforting. We are not alone, I thought! The idea that life is about heartbreak and disappointment, as much as fulfilment and pleasure, is not a novel one but it teaches us that we can't always expect an easy ride. We have to embrace human experience in its entirety, the rough with the smooth. 

Time for resilience

Every time I pick up a newspaper these days, I find an article about declining mental health, particularly amongst children and teenagers. As columnist Camilla Cavendish wrote in The Sunday Times last week, mental health is one of the last taboos and it appears to be on the rise across all the social classes, even amongst privileged children. 

A combination of factors are being blamed for this general increase: from social deprivation, Instagram and 24/7 working culture to the middle-class educational arms race. I am not sure if the stresses of our present society are more or less pernicious than most, but I do know that throughout history there have been burdens to bear (world wars, epidemic disease, the Spanish Inquisition, economic depression, etc). 

This is not to diminish our current mental health issues by any means, but more to seek a way of coping with the perennial pressures of everyday life, in whatever setting we find ourselves. I once wrote a post about the American psychologist Martin Seligman who was tasked with making the US Army more resilient to psychological trauma. Seligman identified several ways of increasing our wellbeing, including positive relationships, accomplishments and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves.

For each individual, the answer will be different, but I think it is hugely important to have some perspective; to recognise that misery and recovery are largely cyclical. If we can accept heartache when it comes, then perhaps we can look to the future with hope. Resilience is key: there will be a way out, Sunday will come around again.

All this from Bradley Cooper in a football jersey - who would have thought? He's not bad-looking either.


Hamlet's soliloquy by William Shakespeare
In this famous monologue, Hamlet bemoans "the Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune" but debates whether self-defeat is the answer.

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