Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Bonkers Tree

I've been going around in circles with this blog post for a few days now. I've been worrying that readers are going to misunderstand, and think I'm being flippant about a subject that is not only serious, but that I take very seriously. 

So I guess I just want to say that yes, maybe I do seem flippant, but what I actually believe is that sometimes it's OK to poke fun at even the most awful, painful things. That, sometimes, poking fun might be the exact right thing to do. Here goes:

I'm not ashamed to say that 90% of the people I love the most in this world are at least a little bit bonkers. Bonkers people make my world funnier, richer, stranger, quirkier and all round better. I like to think I'm a good bit bonkers myself. But the trouble with bonkers people is that, well, they're bonkers. Bonkers people do all sorts of bonkers things, not all of them good. Over the years, I have loved - and still love - people who occasionally hang out under the following branches of the bonkers tree: depression (in several forms), drug addiction, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and bulimia.

This post was inspired by a beautiful, bonkers, bulimic. For the first few years of our friendship, she was in recovery, and I didn't even really know that she was ill. There wasn't anything wrong with her, as far as I could see. She's drop dead gorgeous, inside and out. Now she's relapsed, in a pretty spectacular manner, but I only know that she's ill, that she's suffering the most horrendous distress, because she trusts me enough to tell me about it. From the outside, she still looks drop dead gorgeous. It is only very recently that I have started to really comprehend the bleak and stormy landscape in which she is living. She wrote this eloquent, elegant paragraph to me in an email last week:

I think in the last five years I've been able to grow a comfortable layer of denial over it, and because I was never hospitalised, and always appeared functional, in some ways it's easy to talk yourself out of being entitled to have any feelings of loss. It's not like I'm in a cast and can say 'look, it's broken!' and get people to write all over it. That would be cool. What would you write on my bulimia? 

What would you write on my bulimia? It is a beautiful, strange idea. What would you write, if faced with inescapable physical evidence of an illness that generally hides out deep in the mind? For me, it comes down to a realisation I have had over the past year or so, that the last thing you want to hear when you are suffering is a platitude. I may think that my friend is extraordinarily beautiful, and most definitely NOT FAT, but what the heck does she care about that? The point is not whether I think she's gorgeous or not, it's what she feels about herself. I'd rather look her straight in the eye and say, "yep, wow, that's TOTALLY BROKEN. Ouch. Here, let me write on that."

So, without further ado, behold my (very poor) visual representations of the things I'd like to say to the psychological bonkerosity of some of the people I love:

Drug addiction
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Looking at this now I see that it's really only the tiniest seed of an idea. Yet it's kind of an interesting idea, and an important one. Human beings can be broken in all sorts of different ways. It takes a lot of courage to admit to the outside world that something is broken inside you. People, lots of people, won't know what to say, what to think, what to do. I'm probably not saying or doing the right things for my friends, half the time. So I guess the point is, I SEE YOU. I can see that you've got a broken thing. I'm guessing it hurts. I'm sorry. Can I cover it in coloured pen? 


  1. Great blog Jojo. Interesting idea about portraying mental illnesses as physical ones. Someone on a pair of crutches with 'Panic attacks' written on them etc.

  2. I don't know how I missed this one. Very interesting and so true - we all have our demons. Bulimia is something I know a little about from my counselling days and it is so not really anything to do with being fat, it's about having a part of your life that you feel in control of. It is tough and scary but I imagine for your friend, it would considerably more tough and scary without you in her life. Taking the time to learn and understand is a priceless effort.