Saturday, 12 December 2015

101 Ways to Convince Your Psychologist You're Normal: The Family

I've been adopted.

Finally I've been taken into the warm, heaving bosom of my new family, one that will never let me down or fail to be there when I've got confused in the detergent aisle at Asda.

I had been searching for a new family for a while but little did I suspect that an almost insignificant event could lead to me finding them, and just before Christmas too. I imagine Jesus felt similar when the wise men turned up, even if he was just a baby.

There was no guiding star though so how on earth did my new family find me? It had seemed like a normal day, I'd been shopping for presents getting increasingly annoyed with my fellow shoppers lack of spatial awareness. I'd had sandwiches and been told off for sitting in an area reserved for VAT paying customers. There is nothing worse than an admonishment from a man with a fishnet over his face.

My frustrations grew later in the day when my exercise tracker decided to stop functioning. Not only was I getting bumped about by a range of elderly shoppers but I also wasn't getting any credit for my taking a few extra steps around them. This was too much! 

Like any decent person of British heritage I took to the only weapon I had in my armoury. I wrote a letter. Well an email. Even so I felt satisfied that I had put a full stop to the difficulties of the day. 

And now, I mere 24 hours later, here it was!

'So that we may assist you further and to help keep you in the Fitbit family and working towards your goals, please provide the following information.. 

'Please let us know if you have any questions, and we'll be glad to help you out. We look forward to your reply.'

Questions? I had lots but first I needed to share my excitement and the glow of happiness that had been stirred by knowing that not only was I part of the 'Fitbit family' but also that they cherished my place in it. They wanted to keep me! 

Sadly my excitement wasn't shared 'That just sounds like a automated response. Well as long as you feel welcomed to the Fitbit family'

Automated? It was addressed to me and besides it had been signed by Theresa herself and she'd even mentioned a 'thank you' from the whole Fitbit family too. I couldn't imagine my new family sending automated emails, they'd be more likely to send hand made cards with cute little animals on them.

I sent my reply out to Theresa accepting their kind offer of adoption and enclosed all the particulars that they required to formalise the process. I imagined Theresa to be sitting at her laptop trying to watch 'The Worlds Funniest Animals' whilst losing concentration as she waited for news of my joining.

A warmth hit me when within 60 seconds I had a response thanking me for my email. My mother can take days to respond to anything I send her, not so for my new family! They are there for me morning, noon and night. They are responsive, ever watching for any news that I may put their way.

Again my excitement was not shared by everyone 'Your mum will be very upset if you get adopted you know.'

It felt like I wasn't being allowed to move on. Why should I care what my mother thinks? 

'Well she never replaced my little bike. It's her own fault.' I responded getting ever more tetchy at the lack of support I was receiving.

It was true. I'd received a bike for Christmas one year, a little blue one that was cute despite being second hand. I loved it and I peddled it everywhere I could, round and round until my little feet could peddle no more. The only issue was when I peddled it down a hill. A bike needs two key functions, to start and to stop, and this is where my blue bike failed. I couldn't stop it. So a new bike then? Oh no! Just don't go down hills quickly and use my feet to stop.

My new family wouldn't do that. They've offered me a replacement tracker, a whole new tracker. All shiny and with a bell that works. Well OK, it doesn't have a bell, but I bet they'd add one if I asked them, not just say 'speak to your father.'

So yes, my mother might be upset but I was happy thinking about all the good things I could do with my adopted family. I expect they help old ladies across the road and rescue little cats out of trees. They'd enjoy picnics on the beach and remember to bring napkins and everything. They'd celebrate my birthday with balloons and one of those big banners placed outside my door. I bet they'd remember cake! 

Then the worries came. What if I wasn't good enough? What were their expectations of me? I didn't want to let them down or become the black sheep of the Fitbit family because my views on sex before marriage differed to theirs. Despite looking through their Q&A section for new adoptees there was nothing that could reassure me. I don't deal well with pressure and I'd agreed to something before fully understanding what my family expected of me.

A new family and already I was having stress. Normally I run in these situations but it felt difficult when my new family already tracked my movements. It began to feel more like a cult than a family and I was now stuck with Theresa for the rest of my life.

There was only one thing left for it, I had to resort to email again, I had to stop this before the pressure became to great.

'Dear Theresa and my Fitbit family, I'm really grateful that you have chosen to replace my tracker but I feel unable to remain as a fully committed family member. Don't get me wrong, I'd still like you to monitor my steps and all that exciting stuff, I just don't feel I can help you with cooking a Sunday roast or helping old age pensioners, plus my mum would be upset. Please accept my apologies to everyone including Uncle Brian.'

So there it was. I was an orphan once more, albeit an orphan with an elderly mother.

Within 60 seconds Theresa was back.

'We've received your support request. To update your case at any time, simply reply to this email.'

I sighed. It felt like an automated response.

Monday, 7 December 2015

101 Ways to Convince Your Psychologist You're Normal: Beards

Pulling a small piece of coagulated porridge from the scruffy tangles of my morning beard I reflected on a few strange conversations of the previous few days and how much this facial furriness had become part of ‘me’.

Beards. They’re everywhere. They’ll be on ladies next, probably removed from some poor Russian male in exchange for a few dollars only to end up on the face of a rich westerner with a need for ‘real’ beard extensions.

I’ve had mine for a couple of years now and it feels like it enters the room before I do and therefore sets the agenda on peoples perceptions of my personality. Or at least I thought it did.

I’d been at a party, the kind of party attended by friends and family and only a few outsiders of which I was one. In these occasions small talk is required. ‘Oh God’ I think to myself ‘what am I going to talk about?’ 

Normally I am relaxed and conversational but in this instance I realise that I don't want to discuss topics such as my health, my retirement or indeed my age. Even the weather has let me down the only commentary needed is that it’s been remarkably inclement.

Fortunately I have found a table where there is already a chatty person amongst us, happy to regale me with stories of various wonder ranging from the survival of automobile shunts to the various tricks of dirty old men. Barely a pause goes by until at least a full 15 minutes into the conversation (although ‘conversation’ suggests a two way interaction, which this was not.)

‘Oh you have a beard!’ says my table companion, with a degree of surprise that surprised me even more.

‘What did you think this was? Some sort of strange scarf?’ I respond slightly alarmed.

How could she not have spotted the main focus of my face? What has she been looking at since I got here? Has my beard lost its power and I’m now just an empty husk of a man with a non-noticeable face of fluffiness?

I’m left feeling confused and disoriented. In the past I’ve been called ‘monkey’ and ‘beardy’ for my hairy growth and yet somehow I’ve become just another face in the crowd. Maybe we’ve tired of the beard? You see so many that they start to become invisible. It makes me sad.

The evening draws on and I begin to enjoy my night, my self-obsessed vanity taking second place to the celebrations going on around me. After a couple of drinks I excuse myself and decide to head to the toilet which fortunately doesn’t have the usual quirky names denoting which entrance I should use for my gender.

As I walk in the small space is taken up with three men, two in the process of flushing out some fluid and one who is about to leave through the door. As he does so he looks at me and with a big smile says ‘great beard mate, man you need to show me how to grow one!’

His smooth, baby-like face looks at me in wonder as though expecting some mystical advice from the wise old man in front of him. I feel there is not much I can suggest in the short time that we have available to us and in many ways the mens lavatories seems to be the wrong place for a full beard consultancy.

‘Cheers mate’ I respond whilst making my way in-between my two new urinal colleagues. They look at me. I give them an all knowing look, respect is in the air and for a small moment I am the alpha male. I would let out a little roar but that could be construed as a little weird so I suppress it.

My beard. It’s my one expression of my manliness. It doesn’t define me but it shows that despite my general sensitive and caring nature that I am still very much a man.

For the young, beards are a recent phenomenon but my love of facial fur has been long in its history and it’s that reflection of manliness that always drew me towards it.

The 70’s was the last time that men were really proud to show their growth and as I grew up all the tough guys sported an impressive moustache or beard the most iconic of which was the ‘tache on the face of the legendary Tom Selleck famous for his role in Magnum P.I.

We all have our heroes and I had my own Tom Selleck in the form of my Uncle Tony. Tony wore a ‘tache that Selleck would have been proud of and just like the Magnum P.I. character my uncle was everything that I thought a man should be. Tough, strong and smoking a cigarette.

I wanted to be like my uncle, I wanted to be seen a tough and strong and I wanted him to be proud of me. All our heroes have their faults and Tony was no different but it was what I saw in him that was important to me.

Sadly my uncle passed away after his own battle with ill heath but he did it in a way that reinforced my image of him as a tough character. Sitting with him I knew that he respected my own battles with health and that made me feel proud. A ‘tache now gone but never forgotten.

The porridge still isn't fully out of my whiskers but I’m starting to enjoy the fact it’s there, after all only real men get to pull their food from their hairy face.

My beard is a big part of me, it not only reflects who I am now but it also is a nod to my past and the influences that made me who I am.

I just wish my uncle could see my bushy beard now. I’m sure he’d love it.