One of my clients described how in a moment of anger she threw the decorative solitaire set across the room. She said she had to spend a long time the following day searching for all the marbles. Luckily she appreciated my observation that she brought a new meaning to the phrase “losing your marbles”.
It seems that many people with mental health problems have either lost the sense of having control over important aspects of their lives or never learnt how to achieve this in the first place.
I remember playing “Pooh sticks” as a young child, although at the time I did not know that was the name of the game – even though I spent long periods of my early years in and around Ashdown Forest, home of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. My sister and I would drop our sticks from one side of the bridge and then race to the other side to see whose stick came through first, carried by the current of the stream.
It was this image that came to me in a recent session with a client. For the game to work, you have to drop the sticks on the upstream side of the bridge. For some people, their tragic start in life means they will never effectively be in the game, being dropped from the wrong side of the bridge.
Twigs have no agency, they are carried by the currents and their progress is impeded by rocks, other twgs and bigger branches. There are times when we all feel like twigs, especially in relation to current affairs (!) such as the global economic crisis. It is a matter of degree – for some people, it seems that they are more often twigs than not.
Fish do have agency, they can swim against the currents when they wish or they can literally go with the flow. Fish wishes?!
It is important to recognise when we are in twig mode and when we are in fish mode. It is also important to know that we can change from a twig to a fish – by some kind of strange metamorphis – when the situation demands. In psychological terms, it may be that the twig mode is the default setting for depression, where there is often a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness.