Festival Survival 101 (for the Anxious)

join the resistance fall in love

From Submedia and Crimethinc’s short film about love. power and resistance.

I’ve never liked the idea of festivals. They require you to be literally always outside, continuously pummelled with sounds, surrounded by munted children, munted adults, and conservatives that think they’re socialists – and enjoy it to the tune of £250. Because they sound so awful, I’ve never actually been to one before now and thus my knowledge of festivals comes from those who constantly talk about going to festivals, and – a bit like people who constantly talk about their drug use (for which there is a huge Venn diagram to be drawn here) – perhaps don’t give the best impression of the overall world of drug- and festival-use. (There’s a smouldering, silent bloc of you that are alright.)

Hypocritically, then, I’ll join the rabble forcing their self-indulgent and narrow-minded experience of festival phenomena on you, and tell myself it’s only to balance the noise. But I do hope that for young overwhelms like myself who might one day be traumatised by a cheeky, non-committal fence-hop that accidentally lasts too long, or get peer-pressured into buying a ticket for a version of hell decorated by a Glastonbury shopkeeper, I will litter the following with all the instructions I can think of that allowed me to ‘enjoy’ mine and stop short of ‘spend £250 on anything else.’

me in a festival mirror

Proof that this definitely happened.

Last week I went to Green Gathering. I was running the cinema there for the first two days, on behalf of a friend who had double-booked himself with Boomtown and had wisely recognised that it would be unwise for me, at this point in my life, to be Boomtowning. It is important to do your research, and choose a festival with which you are largely compatible. Green Gathering hates The Man, hedonism, and things that most normal people think are fun and/or necessary, so we were about as well suited as a festival and I could be. Working was key to optimum mental functioning; running the cinema not only gave me some much needed structure – there were no acts on that I’d heard of, so I had no itinerary (which, for two days in a field, is ludicrous) – but also provided me with a huge tent to live in. This made the journey to and from the festival slightly less stressful, in that I had one less item to throttle me and smash into my shins.

Before I left, a festival-seasoned friend (who only talked about it at my request) advised me that there are slightly different rules to socialising etiquette at festivals, and that you’re almost certain to get a good response if you begin talking to a stranger with an enthusiasm up to and including that usually reserved for adult-toddler interactions. As I got off the train with a bunch of other people carrying camping gear, I asked a couple (in the style of a children’s TV presenter circa 1998) if I could share their taxi. Since it was a small town it was only a fiver, and they didn’t ask for money (the next day they came to visit me in the cinema and watched a film about the inevitability of full ecocide due to rapacious mining and pollution – I felt we’d bartered ironically, if not well.) Almost immediately I got out the taxi and began hobbling toward the crew office, a woman dressed as a fire-breathing mythical creature offered to carry my bags for me the rest of the way to the site.

END:CIV violence derrick jensen

From the brilliant END:CIV, Submedia’s film about radical environmentalist Derrick Jensen and his book about ecocide, Endgame.

First things first, I unpacked everything, reshuffled it, and packed everything valuable into a smaller bag to carry everywhere with me (lest the socialist-cum-conservatives wheedle their way into my temporary home – they’re individualistic at heart, but all about distribution of others’ wealth when it suits them.) It is advisable to over-prepare on anything that is light, and carry that with you too. You’ll be able to get by without that 2 litre bottle of mixer, but when you forget nail clippers that hang nail is going to fuck you.

bp or not bp

Protest theatre group BP or not BP. They were nice and angry.

I ran into people wearing matching fake beards, who turned out to be theatre protest group BP or Not BP, a Rasta who also ran a macrobiotic food festival, and a teenager called Carl who would have charmed me right up if I hadn’t been ten years older than him. He didn’t so much shake my hand as much as he held it tenderly and squeezed it a couple of times as though we’d been friends for years, or my hand was a piece of bread that he was crumbing for a nutroast. I didn’t know teenage boys were capable of such gentleness/astute manipulation.

By that first evening I had talked to an optimum amount of other festival-goers (i.e. not that many) who were all perfectly friendly and had thus retained a lot of my energy. I screened my last film for the day, had a drink, and ran into some drum and bass. These munters seemed alright after all. I was relaxing, mainly because of the rum/drum and bass symbiosis but also because I was by myself, bouncing without limitation from one place to another, one impromptu mid-crowd circus performance to another, one eyebrow-flash of contentment shared with a stranger to another…

At some point some square ceased that particular fun, and I, being cool, made my way over to the only stage still playing. The fun I hadn’t anticipated having was cut short – it was nearing 2am, and the final laptop had died. Perversely, the DJ started making requests for alternatives – naturally, I had packed my iPod into my tory-proof rucksack and proceeded to play all the weird and wonderful songs I never thought I’d hear on a speaker stack taller than I am. (It was around Favourite Moment #36 of my life so far, but they often happen just out of my comfort zone where there are no pens, so I can’t be sure.)

Finally someone came and grumpily shut it down – the laptop had in fact died at exactly the right time and my illicit iPod dabbling had drawn a couple of organisers out of Festival HQ to bollock us, which I unplugged and slipped away for. It got relatively quiet – which I wasn’t expecting – but I still needed ear plugs to get some sleep. (And for God’s sake take an eye mask; daytime occurs about 4am because you’re living outside.)

In the morning I felt as rough and regretful as I usually do after having a lovely time, my mind full of uncertainty and my body lacking true rest. I made my way over to The Healing Field which, alongside massages for a (suggested) donation (of £35) and a tent in which you were invited to unlock the pain of your ancestors from your DNA (no, thanks) offered free yoga sessions. The session I went to happened to be all women, and led by a friendly, generous and normal-seeming woman who was all about my womb. This was nice, because I was on my period and someone was paying attention to my need to rub my stomach a bit and stretch in un-thought-of ways and grizzle a bit, and then she said kind things about my soul. She definitely wasn’t getting munted. I wondered how she was dealing with the whole thing, seemingly super happy living amongst the rain and the badgers and the soggy leaves, chanting and smiling at people while appearing to have all her marbles. She may have been an anomaly, but she was shattering my neatly-whittled stereotypes.

It was raining again and not many people were up yet, so I ended up cancelling the first screening of the day. My structure interrupted, I was immediately bored and antsy. I walked around the perimeter of the site listening to Boards of Canada (whom I no longer think are pointless but actually quite relaxing). I finally took shelter in the main tent, where all of the youngest children at the festival appeared to have formed an adorable gang and sat in a tiny row in front of me. Trying to ‘be’ and shit, I just sat. I sat and wondered whether as a toddler I would have relished the brightly coloured music farm, or whether all of the people and the rain and the blaring would have agitated me into a series of overtired panics. I wondered how much of my anxiety was inherent and how much was learned, how much of it will stay with me throughout my life, how much of it I deserved, how much of it was my fault, how I was supposed to be relaxing and being kind to myself and not overthinking things or asking questions with no answers.

tiny gang

I surreptitiously took a photo of these small children and put it on the internet.

The musicians started and I stared at them as they ran through a lengthy sound check. I enjoyed a change of scenery for my staring, away from screens. I enjoyed hearing literally no traffic. I enjoyed sitting in a public space with my eyes closed, smiling and swaying gently and still not being the weirdest person in the room. A woman sat down next to me and said hello, and after a short chat she insisted on buying me a chai and a piece of cake. I was so touched that I didn’t tell her I’d just eaten or that my nervous system has an intolerance for vast clumps of sugar, so though I drank all of the chai I chucked the cake over my shoulder while she wasn’t looking (like that bit in Good Will Hunting in the joke shop, but I was genuinely trying to outsmart her and I’m slightly more hench than Matt Damon.)

I was already flagging and I’d only been there 24 hours. That felt like several too many, and I had the same amount to go. I had no choice but to pay attention to the musicians, the couples around me enjoying a break from their routines, the children embodying abandon and how desperate I was to join them. (I haven’t yet figured out abandon, if anyone has, please tweet me.) I became ok just sitting, listening, flitting from place to place for as long as each one held my attention. I gave myself a grace period each time, so I didn’t flit too much or too little, then moved around some more. It was a designated break from what was usual, and I didn’t realise how much I needed that until I was sitting on a child-size wicker stool staring at a tapestry of elves.

It was still raining like fuck and only getting windier. I went back to my screening schedule, ate, ran back into Carl the teenager and then a man named ‘Compost John’ who told me he was polyamorous and was going to nickname me something ‘memorable, like Hot and Hardcore’. That made me uncomfortable so I said ‘well, that’s what my Mum calls me’ and he looked at me like he didn’t understand why I’d said something so literally true. I wondered whether his lack of sense of humour helped in his negotiating multiple sexual partners into his life. I showed my final film, about masculinity and violence in hip hop, followed by a short interview segment with Brother Ali. It was a good choice to end on. I liked creating my own schedule. I liked carving out a piece of the festival for myself. I now had freedom to roam and stumble upon an evening like last night’s.

brother ali russia today

Brother Ali news segment from RT.

My body was tired. I went back to the drum and bass bar; the music was great again, but I was unable to connect with people as I had 24 hours ago. I moved lazily, my eyelids rested half way down my pupils; I couldn’t lift my limbs as I had. I wasn’t smiling naturally. I defected to a calmer stage with a jazz band and after resorting to some sort of half contemporary dance, half amateur Tai Chi, I accepted that I needed a sit down.

At that moment the drummer whipped out a triangle, and started playing it like it was an actual instrument and not just a memory from my primary education. In his hands the thing sounded like a piano. I had no idea you could play the triangle well; I thought you just hit it or you didn’t. It struck me (pun intended) that there aren’t many places you can bump into someone excelling at the triangle. What else might I encounter, were I to do the unthinkable, and go to another? Had I had a good time? Had I just coped incredibly well? Had the goalposts of my life really moved to accommodate stewards dressed as magical frogs and shitting into wheelie bins?

The morning of my exit, the sun came out with force, as though Gaia had understood my need to leave and was providing me with the best atmosphere in which to do so, but also showing me how beautiful it was to be outside and amongst a community. The site looked achingly good in the morning light – I leisurely kicked my boots through the immaculately dewy meadow to get a cup of tea and breakfast, walked around the perimeter once more and found a giant throne carved out of a few tree trunks from which I surveyed the whole arena a final time. I suppose I could have stayed one more day; I was exhausted, but the sun began to feel like my own personal charger. My experience was now bathed in sunlight and hindsight, and the parameters of the experiment had been optimal.

I was also pumped full of excitement for my next trip, starting immediately: my brother was picking me up from the site to visit my family home and celebrate our birthdays. As I packed up my belongings, throttling and smashing my way out of the ‘best off-grid family renewable community sustainable festival’, I was happy. Happy I’d done it. Happy to be here. Happy to be leaving. And possibly happier than I’d ever been to get in a fossil-fuel powered machine that represents the undoing of our survival and the fragility of our understanding of future realities.

Fuck. Am I a conservative?

Be the food you wish to see in the world.

I’ve never spoken about this publicly before.

After a month of feeling ambivalent towards my health, my work, and whether or not it would actually be preferable for the crash of civilisation to just hurry up and happen so whoever was left could start again, I read something that made me feel a bit better. I wrote the writer a letter because maybe someone else’s writing could make her feel sane, too.

PS: while we’re on food, we really need to sort out the food and agricultural industries. Have you seen them?! They’re completely fucked. If anyone works out how, please email me. No wonder I find it so hard to eat properly, when they make it so difficult. – Ed.

———————-

Caroline –

I just read your article on Adios Barbie. You might have just saved me from a long road back, or at least helped nudge my tunnel vision off track.

I have had various, and almost constant, eating disorders since I was twelve, and they came to a head about three years ago. At that point, I sought therapy and at the same time went to the library to read up – I found a book called ‘When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies‘, which was a mouthful to keep repeating to my Mum when I frequently enthused about it, and which outlined the ideas of both emotional and intuitive eating (which I’d never heard of before.) It helped me to dedicate myself to the beautifully messy art of eating whatever I needed and whenever I wanted, and I even became a sometimes happy and joyful person in the process (which you should be impressed by, because I’m a neurotic, middle-class anxious person by nature, down to having glasses very similar to Woody Allen’s [I was prescribed those, they aren’t natural.])

My weight subsequently levelled out by itself, a few times – in the latest of these level-ings last month, I didn’t even notice. I’ve just fallen quickly into a new relationship with a man I might well love forever, and to discuss all the fear that comes with being happy because someone else temporarily exists, I went to see an old friend I needed to catch up with. She quickly noted my recent weight loss (she is one of the few who I told of my eating disorder when it got really bad, and is often attentive to changes in my appearance [not always helpful – though, of course, well-intentioned]) and almost immediately I was thrown into a hyper-vigilant state of weighing myself ‘just to check’ and ‘out of curiosity’, privately adamant I would not put anything back on because ‘this is how much I weigh now’, accompanied by the physical sensation of sugar coursing through my veins any time I ate anything wheat-based.

The most perverse part of this turn in the last few weeks has been the genuine belief that eating small amounts of very healthy food (the bare minimum I need to stop my heart from palpitating and my mood spiralling, of course) will protect me from freaking out about putting on weight, and having to fully restrict.

I’m dieting to ‘protect’ myself from having to diet.

One half of my brain watches all this pain unravel from the luxury box seats in my psyche, knowing it’s all bullshit, feeling superior, facilitating it all the while; the other really desperately wants to feel ok again, and doesn’t understand why that feeling suddenly left me, and craves sugar, and uses my eyes to stare at the mirror while using my hands to hide remaining body fat to see what I could look like if I ate and exercised ‘properly’, and knows I’m not emotionally exhausted I’m just lazy, and craves sugar, and so bakes loads but then can’t bring itself to allow any eating of the cake. God I crave sugar. Maybe I WILL have a cake or five. And maybe then, in desperation, get rid of the four of them my stomach hasn’t digested yet.

Then I read your article, and remembered some things I’d forgotten.

I’ve just completed my first feature film (zero-budget, quite an achievement), I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been physically and mentally, I’ve just fallen in love, and I’m doing some really important work right now both personally and professionally. All of this potential for massive failure (sorry, I mean, really good things happening to me THAT ARE COMPLETELY OUT OF MY CONTROL, *breathes*) is terrifying, and each day it’s uncertain whether my confidence is going to drive me at speed to exactly where I need to go, or crash around my face in that far-too-real and embarrassingly visible way it does.

I love the Cherokee tale of the two wolves, the lesson being ‘the one that wins will be the one you feed.’ Guess I’m going to have to feed myself if I want to win.

(That sentence looks as though it’s written with resignation. I feel it needs an addendum:)

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Victoria sponge cakeEgg and pastaRoast dinner Thank you. Good luck. Elizabeth

6 Reasons Therapy Should Be Mandatory

therapyI can’t shake the feeling that the Gods somehow fumbled the design of our inner character last thing on the Saturday night, distracted by a lack of sleep, and rushing in anticipation of the awesome horizontalness to come. While life on Earth is globally, chronically, and undeniably insane, it is for the most part dull as fuck. Some people appear to deal with it better than others; perhaps you don’t at all mind daily life’s insistence on enacting the inestimable cut scenes from every film ever, from Meek’s Cutoff to A Serbian Film.

But I mind. Meek’s Cutoff was lame.

In 25 years of research in the field, I have, at times, found sharing (privatised) land, (polluted) air and (what passes for) mutual cognition with you all kinda unbearable. For years, I more-than-welcomed a number of short-term-effective coping mechanisms, but once sober enough to process what I really needed, none was so effective as dosing myself up to the eyeballs with psychotherapy. If we were all forced to have a bit of a think and a chat, creating a big ol’ space in our minds for understanding and reflection, we might not do so much political bickering and hypothesizing about other people’s life choices all over the internet based only on our own experience. We might even have a shot at that world peace thing (joke.) Human beings are naturally narcissistic – it’s not your fault. (It’s not your fault. [It’s not your fault.]) So here’s a few reasons why you should be more like me.

1. More and more of us have worsening mental health.

The effects of the global recession are being fully felt; not only financially, but emotionally. Reports of depression and stress have increased four- or five-fold, as inequality and struggle become ever more banal. Statistics from 2007 (the most recent national review) note that 10% of UK adults are diagnosed depressed, and 9% of the UK population meets the criteria for diagnosis of mixed anxiety and depression. (At this point, the global recession hadn’t even happened. Nor had the Con-Dem coalition’s class war. It would be a couple of years of average misery before these public services would be handed stoically to an already glum, highly-strung population.) Luckily, the UK’s National Health Service website informs us that while there are many different types of psychotherapy, the aim of each and every one is to “make you feel better.” While the NHS’s particular brand of PR may be condescending, it is also 100% correct. (US readers: I’d suggest you try our evil socialist healthcare system while it lasts, but we are as ironically averse to immigration as you are.)

(Statistics update from 2011)

Talking therapies are proven to be as, if not more, effective than medication at treating not only serious psychological conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but also at vastly improving the quality of life of those who are grieving; have experienced abuse; have been made redundant; are experiencing general stress and anxiety; or are not a favoured member of their region’s kyriarchy.

If you don’t consider yourself a member of the 90% of the population described above, then either you’re a human being with few complaints, a master of your emotions who knows instinctively how to take care of yourself and others, or you are the killer/abuser/layer-offer/bully/illuminati emperor and/or member of the narcissistic corporate elite in the dynamic. In which case, GET OFF THE INTERNET AND INTO THERAPY or welcome the death of the Earth you preside over (and/or the uprising of the masses…? Anyone?)

Even though the therapeutic method most often focuses on purging the frightening, frustrating and harmful thoughts and feelings you contain, ejecting this poisonous bile at someone you have to repeatedly give money to starts to feel better and better. It’s a bit like never being able to sneeze or shit, and then learning to expel them one by one, weekly, for approximately an hour at a time, and eventually becoming a wet wipe connoisseur.

2. Most people suck at relationships (including therapists.)

In contrast to many people’s idea of the forced-yet-necessary-stoicism of the therapist, Irvin Yalom, therapist, author and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford, believes that it is not at all inappropriate for a therapist to acknowledge their feelings and personality within the relationship; it is, in fact, hugely beneficial to the patient:

 

“From comic strips to Hollywood features, the analyst is often portrayed sitting behind a desk or a notebook, literally out of reach and out of sight of the person being analysed. As patients, we perceive that person sitting across from us as a powerful and impenetrable figure, yet we’re expected to reveal ourselves up to their scrutiny.” [Source: psychotherapy.net]

One of the most fundamental difficulties human beings insist upon is creating and sustaining unhealthy relationships. This leads to eventual isolation, the breakdown of families, and at it’s most extreme and macro levels, war and exploitation. There are numerous upon numerous reasons for these dysfunctions; some benign and understandable, some horrific and relentless. The majority involve some kind of abuse, and whether this be serious child abuse or short-lived school bullying, the effects are almost always felt well into adulthood.

Yalom has written extensively, in both fiction and non-fiction formats, about the fundamental relationship dynamic of therapy. He has revolutionized for many the way in which this relationship is viewed, and how it functions for the benefit of the patient. He is “a keen advocate for unmasking the therapist. One of the main reasons that people fall into despair is that they are unable to sustain gratifying relationships. According to Yalom, therapy is their opportunity to establish a healthy give-and-take with an empathetic counselor; one who is not afraid to show his or her vulnerabilities.” As long as ‘vulnerabilities’ is interpreted literally and legally, the therapeutic relationship can be a template on which to measure how, henceforth, one might bounce merrily with ones brethren.

3. You can teach yourself numerous invaluable skills

As noted previously in the shit and sneezes metaphor, talking therapy requires, and develops, persistence. From this painful and seemingly never-ending grind comes an understanding of healthy boundaries, self-expression, reflection, and self-awareness, to name only a few essential personality traits (assuming you consider it essential to be at least bearable.) Further, occupational therapy literally gives people physical skills in order to help them gain the tools needed to participate in society effectively, especially after trauma. It is a lengthy process of progress and slow change to make those who are wounded fully healed, and for them to independently maintain that health. Plus, it would make all losers suck a lot less. (Seriously, stop staring at a screen. Jeez. [I will if you will.])

This ranges from teaching (sometimes re-teaching) people how to dress themselves, to be in public spaces without anxiety and to walk or talk again, to teaching employable skills and tools for expression which allow people to regain enjoyment and pleasure from life. I’m sure each of us could find space in our lives to fill the void that little bit more. (Screw you, void. I’m coming for you with my authoritarian mandatory therapy world domination policy, and you can’t hide from that. Especially once I’ve put it on a banner, and flown it around the sky above you, VOID!)

4. It’s utilizes and transforms your ‘worst’ traits

Therapy basically provides a framework perfect for curing yourself of being a selfish bastard, utilising the methodology of well-focused self-obsession. The key therapist-patient relationship affords you an allotted time and safe space to discuss anything and everything you need to, without judgment. For example, this would prevent people with serious or chronic grievances from over-unloading on friends who likely have as many issues of their own, and time constraints and pressure from elsewhere. Therapists are trained to indirectly provide what a client needs at a particular point and adapt with them (by helping them provide for themselves), bypassing the resentment and frustration that can arise from imbalance in intimate relationships.

If you ever needed an excuse for being “selfish”, it’s improving your own wellbeing. Therapy is completely private, like having a conversation inside your head with someone who understands your thought patterns guiding you away from repeating down destructive pathways. And therapists don’t expect you to be nice to them, or polite about your children, or reasonable about the utter incompetence of people who walk too slowly, and then look at you like that when you righteously barge past them like the glittering hero of pedestrianism that you are, to the raucous applause in your mind. Your superior mind, attached to a body with places to be.

It’s kind of weird – they don’t need anything back! Except money.*

5. It would keep costs low

Vikram Patel of the World Health Organisation says that countries such as Canada, UK and the Scandinavian countries, who have strong welfare systems (!!) and, to an extent, affordable or free mental health care, already offer the best care overall.

In the UK, there is quite a waiting list for free therapy & counselling on the NHS, but it is available to anyone who needs it. We also have a number of nationwide networks which provide free, short term (usually six sessions/weeks) counselling to combat specific problems faced, such as Rape Crisis and Mind. But psychotherapy is generally a long-term, indefinite process with one therapist, aimed at understanding patterns and themes in ones behaviour; thereby unsustainable as a free service.

Private therapy is expensive. Often those who need it most, people who are financially struggling, cannot access it. At best, you’re looking at ~£200 a month. Mandatory therapy would form the basis for it to be made either free or widely affordable, encouraging people to form depression unions and schizophrenic pressure groups. What’s the worst that could realistically happen?

6. Therapy is a microcosm for life.

Therapy prepares us for understanding and making beneficial challenges within and without the boundaries of our societies. We (in the west) live in a culture in which we are increasingly reluctant to fully communicate, or make radical changes to ourselves to facilitate the betterment of society as a whole. This can be seen at both individual and governmental levels.

Unfortunately, when we would welcome change and communication, we don’t necessarily have the time to enact it. In several ways therapy augments and fosters our ability to optimize functioning alongside one another, and maximizes our ability to derive what we need from life and what society needs from us. It is also the starting point (and a relevant allegory) for understanding the boundaries we maintain to keep us from living our lives fully.

In a paper titled Psychotherapy & Politics: Uncomfortable Bedfellows?, The Midlands Psychology Group quotes D. Pilgrim as advocating “the potential for the development of more radical forms of therapy arising from challenges to the reductionism of mainstream therapies.” He “saw psychotherapy as first promising a role in personal and political liberation.” Without being able to commit to radical changes for the better in oneself (however small), it is unlikely that we will be able to radically change anything else.

Christopher Willoughby goes one further, arguing that therapy can shirk its moral responsibility if it doesn’t acknowledge that social determinants are often the source of most patient anguish and disadvantage: “An inability to psychologically tolerate our social circumstances can lead to social alienation through behaviour society finds threatening, embarrassing or uncooperative and inefficient. […] Counselling and psychotherapy are particularly well placed to act as a platform to facilitate social solidarity given that they are faced daily with managing the consequences of social injustice and inequality.”

In the absence of free, mandatory therapy for everyone, understanding therapy as a mutual work that we can work towards together, as a reflective tool for radical change, could be a start.

therapy2

*And boundaries. Also, be nice and reasonable anyway?