Monday, 1 February 2010


Julie Walters as Mo Mowlem in 'Mo' 
Picture Channel
Last night I watched Julie Walters' bravura performance as Mo Mowlem, the politician behind the Good Friday Agreement, whose struggle with a brain tumour was played out in public.  One of the points made by the programme was that it was impossible to say how long she'd had the tumour, which affected her behaviour and personality in profound ways.  Mo had to struggle with the question of where the tumour ended, and the real Mo began.  In the last scene, a colleague tried to explain to her, as she lay in a coma, that it really didn't matter.  That she was who she was, tumour and all.

This seems to me to be a profoundly important question.  Who would I be without the ME and the lifelong depression?  Really, the question doesn't matter.  You can't take those things away, because they are indelibly there, part of my history, and therefore part of who I am.  It only becomes and issue when you hate the illness, and believe me, there are days when I really do hate it, as if it is a separate thing, a monster I carry around with me on my back.  But it isn't.  It is part of who I am.  Accepting that is crucial.

And this is why.  Gestalt therapists talk about The Paradoxical Theory of Change.  Which basically means, that change cannot happen until you accept where you are.  You can't get to Edinburgh, my guru, R, says, unless you know you are in Norwich first.

Virginia Woolf noted in her diaries that her own depression helped to make her the writer she was.  Would I be able to produce the work I do if I had not developed the ability to dissociate, to escape from my despair into stories?  I doubt it.

Mo Mowlem's question of where the illness stops and the essential self begins is a profound one about identity.  But I think we can only deal with it by accepting that we cannot separate our essential self from the things that happen to us.

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