Tuesday 11 September 2018

Talk Club: asking for help

Michael writes about what the film Fight Club can teach us about mental health.
- Michael

Fighting Myself
For a long time, I found Uni really tough. It was definitely made tougher though, I see now, by my total reluctance to ask for help. I suffered in silence, spiralling into despair as I increasingly struggled to fight my own thoughts. I remember a concerned staff member speaking to me. They suggested that I should go to the counselling service. “There is no point going to counselling”, I told them dismissively. ‘It’s a waste of time’. “I don’t want to talk about it, I just want to do something!” This desire for action at times of difficulty is understandable and it can, of course, be very healthy to take appropriate action to change certain circumstances in your life if they are causing you excess stress and distress. But it can become damaging if, like me, this desire to do something stops you from wanting to face up to, and talk about, your feelings. Taking action is not the problem here – but viewing action as a ‘quick fix’ to our emotional problems can cause problems if it stops us from talking about them. By reflecting on the film Fight Club, I hope to show how destructive prioritising action over talking can be (especially for men) and why we shouldn’t be dismissive about asking for help.

Fighting the Expectations
I think men can be particularly susceptible to this view (due, in large part, to the emotionally repressive barriers to talking about feelings imposed by the ‘rules’ of masculinity – I have posted on this before). I certainly remember having some vague (and false) preconception that, when times are hard, women talk about it and men deal with it on their own. Research suggests that men are less likely to talk to a friend, family member or professional about their mental health, and are less likely to value, seek or access talking therapies than women - tending, instead, towards self-destructive and harmful behaviours (see www.menshealthforum.org.uk).

Fight Club
Fight Club, on the surface, seemed to suggest the perfect outlet to me; a form of therapy based solely on action and not talking (after all, the first rule of Fight Club is that ‘you do not talk about Fight Club’). For me, the film symbolised an easy way to express difficult emotions that was, at last, actually permitted, indeed encouraged, by the rules of masculinity. In the film, as in my own mind at the time, fight club was man therapy (contrasted with the supposedly futile and feminised talking therapies in the opening scenes). It was not necessarily that I wanted to fight (although there were times when I projected my internal fight onto external sources). It was more that I just wanted to do something, anything, to break out of and distract myself from my own thoughts, no matter how much pain it brought. In Fight Club, having fought, the character’s problems seem muted, insignificant even. They claim to feel better and more self-aware. But, as the group mutates into an anti-capitalist terrorist organisation, the film shows us how the therapy offered by fight club can be dangerous and illusionary. By the end, the two protagonists have morphed into an alter-ego fighting each other. Their fight is self-destructive. In the same way, by refusing to ask for help and trying to take action to fight my feelings on my own, I was only fighting myself.

Talk Club
After finally seeking professional help, I now have a different view of counselling and talking about feelings more generally. We shouldn’t dismiss talking as inferior to action, because talking is itself a form of action. By this, I mean that when I eventually did talk to someone, it opened up new positive actions that, trapped in my own self-destructive thought patterns, hadn’t occurred to me before. Talking (and indeed blog writing) helped me to (re)order my thoughts and reach a new understanding of the experiences that I was finding tough. Fight the stigma not yourself: speak out and ask for help.

About Michael:
Hi, I'm Michael. I'm a postgraduate student at Durham. I want to write for Student Minds to share my own experiences of depression and anxiety and tackle the stigma around mental health. Some useful links if you're looking for support: Nightline - Student Listening signposting service, who can help you on your way to finding support. Find your uni Nightline ​here HopeLineUK - phone service for young people, staffed by professionals T: 08000684141 E: ​pat@papyrus-uk.org

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