Saturday, 28 October 2017

Sparkling Confessions of the Mind


Confessions of a Sociopath – M E Thomas

Am I a sociopath? I don’t think I am; but just like when you look up seemingly innocuous symptoms on Google and you come back thinking you have about 4 hours left to live, reading this book by M E Thomas did make me question my identity. Even if I were…is it something I should be worried about? As Thomas says “There is a similar double standard currently applied to sociopaths versus sociopathic behaviour. Sociopaths are prone to violence, but empaths also commit gruesome acts of violence. These acts are more excusable to juries as long as the empath shows “remorse.””

I found myself completely engrossed by Thomas’ life story as a diagnosed sociopath. When you think of sociopaths or psychopaths from the movies, they are people you would want to steer clear of, but Thomas is full of a strange confident charisma; she is an ambitious and successful career woman, so successful she has felt the need to hide her identity in this “warts and all” tale of her life. She is the type of person you want to meet, a woman with an interesting tale to tell, a baffling psychological study in motion.

It is her ability to “charm” people that leads her to get her way, whether that be investing in her cunning financial schemes, or even falling into bed with her. If you have ever read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, you would imagine that Thomas is a plausible Lisbeth Salander! Both speak their mind, both don’t care what people think, they have their own sense of what is right and what is wrong.


“psychopaths are antisocials who excel at seeming social…the psychopath excels in many ways that others do not…uncommonly charming and witty. He is unflappable and eloquent…Under this “mask of sanity” however is a liar, a manipulator, a person who disregards his obligations with little or no sense of responsibility.”


I am quite antisocial. People assume that because I can be lively and bubbly I am always the happy life and soul of a party. Often I’m not, I'd much rather be at home with a good book and a cup of tea. In reality I prefer animals over humans...they never let you down. I always find that at some level people will begin to disappoint me. I can be moralistic, and therefore have high expectations of those who surround me. If someone is serious and tells me they want to tell me something in confidence, I respect that. Despite the fact that outwardly I probably seem like a right gossip, I am trustworthy and I still hold many secrets that friends past and present have told me. So on the one hand I'm antisocial, but on the other I do remember my obligations and responsibilities. I will assess what I’ve been told; was it a cry for help, an unburdening, or just a secret that should be kept between the honoured few? I respect the fact that someone has deemed me responsible enough to share their secret with. I get incensed if that confidence is broken by another party, but only if I feel that I’m going to get incorrectly blamed for spreading the news if it ever "got out." 

Contract lawyers will be aware of the term “efficient breach.” In these breaches, it can be the immoral choice which leaves everyone in a better position. Most people are brought up to know that you have a choice in life, but for every choice you make there is a consequence. “If I wanted to break a rule and was willing to suffer the consequences, I should be allowed to make that choice unhindered.” This argument piqued my interest. A thoroughly reasonable argument, but what happens when you put it into action? And what about the effect on others? Is there a line that can be crossed where actually, even if you are prepared to suffer the consequences it’s not just immoral, it’s also illegal and just plain wrong.  In the book, Thomas says “When my good friend’s father was diagnosed with cancer, I cut off all contact with her. It sounds like a ruthless thing to do, and it was. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her…but I found I could no longer enjoy any of the benefits she had provided to me…I had overinvested and was running many months into the red with no improvement. I found that I could not wear the mask of compassion or selflessness indefinitely without acting out in ways that were hurtful to us both.”


I can't do this anymore...I need to face this situation


I could understand what she was saying to a point. We should be there for our friends; that is why they are our friends, but it is also true that there has to be give and take in a friendship. My friend, who doesn’t drive, accepted a job where I work. It’s about 40 mins drive when there’s no traffic and I agreed that I would pick her up and take her home on the four days I worked. The fifth day she would have to bus, train and walk it.

I did this for about a year, but it was only when she needed to take a few weeks leave that I realised just how much the 8 mile detour ate into my day. I could now get up later, set off later, and still arrive in work on time. I could get home, pop to the shop whilst it wasn’t busy, grab a few things and get home for just after 5pm. My stress levels and tiredness improved…and then when the old regime started again I was found myself  getting tired and irritable. It didn’t help that I had people digging up my front garden at the time and I had to be home quick smart or I had nowhere to park. This was becoming a tricky situation, a sociopath wouldn’t give a damn, but I did!

I didn’t want to cause hurt to my friend…but why should I be putting myself out so much? What did I get in return for the extra stress? After all I reasoned, I'd worked hard as a 17 year old to earn the money to learn to drive, to pass my test, to buy myself a car; to ultimately have a sense of freedom so I didn’t have to rely on anyone. It wasn’t as though we regularly went out either, occasionally I’d book us tickets to the theatre, but other than that, there was never a phone call from her saying “do you fancy meeting up in town for a coffee??” Was I a friend, or just a convenience? These thoughts spiralled round and round until I just had to bite the bullet and I texted my friend to forewarn her that I wanted a chat. “Can you give me a call when you get a min? I’ve been thinking long & hard about the morning commute…Just want to discuss options with you.” The reply came back in an instant. She had already decided she was going to text me about making her own way to work in the future.  

I was livid. I still am if I think about it. That was not the action of a friend. You’d think I’d have responded to her message wouldn’t you? But just like Thompson, I cut off all ties and walked away. It was my version of the “efficient breach.” And yes, I do feel better for it. I feel I have gained, not lost. Had this not happened, my behaviour would only have get worse. I would feel more and more resentful that my life was getting increasingly put upon and I am a terrible liar. I can’t pretend that things are OK when they clearly are not.

Confessions of a Sociopath has met with many conflicting reviews on the internet. It seems to be a “Marmite book.” Those who love it are enthralled by the writing of a diagnosed sociopath, to try to understand their take on the world in which they inhabit. Those who hate the book seem to have missed the point…they say they read it wanting to find out how a sociopath feels and what struggles they face, yet upon reading the book they are disappointed to find out about a self-absorbed character who doesn’t think her actions are wrong, who has a huge ego and takes the moral high ground with us “lesser beings.” I find this very interesting though. The fact that this person is so self-absorbed is telling, and what makes the book so interesting; especially for anyone who has an interest in the psychological workings of the mind. I think that is the point of the book – how do people who are not considered “normal” view themselves and the society they live in? 

By the end of the book I considered that overall I wasn't a sociopath. I might by grumpy, pessimistic, judgmental even, but overall, just a pretty practical and boring person really!



Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham


I moved onto another book that looks at the human mind; Fingers in The Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham. This is a beautifully moving memoir of one of my favourite naturalists. As a young teenager, I loved watching The Really Wild Show. I loved Chris too, he was so enthusiastic about the wildlife on the programme and he had a plethora of knowledge at his fingertips…he also sported a punky hairstyle so he fitted right in with the music I was listening to at the time! Chris Packham was cool, so it came as an utter shock reading his memoir about how difficult his childhood was. He was picked on and bullied for being different. He wasn’t considered “normal.” It wasn’t until his 40’s that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.

“Every minute was magical, every single thing it did was fascinating and everything it didn't do was equally wondrous, and to be sat there, with a Kestrel, a real live Kestrel, my own real live Kestrel on my wrist! I felt like I'd climbed through a hole in heaven's fence.”

This isn’t an overly sentimental tale; it is the story of a young boy fixated by the details of the world around him, who felt more at home in the protective arms of the countryside than he ever did at school.  It is a keen observation of what life was like growing up in the 1970’s, when children found magic all around then and came home with jam jars filled with tadpoles (I’ll never forget my poor father’s face when spawning time came round each year. “I can’t move in the garden for all of your blummin frogs. I must have counted at least 40 of the buggers this morning.” I think I was in my late 20’s when he was really pulling his hair out following the aftermath of my childhood follies…my jam jar of tadpoles had allowed for an ever expanding population of frogs to keep returning year after year to further populate Holly Bank ponds with a crescendo of happy croaking each morn!  “I can’t mow the lawn for all these ruddy things hopping about” he moaned! I suppose if he was still around now he would be breathing a sigh of relief that his animal loving daughter hadn’t tried eating any tadpoles like Chris did…well I don’t think I ever went that far!

This book became a bit of a time travelling adventure for me, as Chris filled his house with tadpoles…doomed to die in a jam jar on a sunny windowsill; bird’s eggs that you had to spend time carefully blowing the contents out of and then making sure you didn’t crush them with you pudgy childish fingers, or fox skulls which had been boiled clean…I was transported back to my childhood where I’d visit “first pit” with my brothers. They’d come back with Roach for the garden ponds or a big fat Tench to keep the bottom clean (I called him Tommy the Tench...I was such a creative genius!) I couldn’t catch fish (no patience) so I’d bring back frogspawn. I remember one holiday being taught how to “blow” a hens egg before moving onto something more exotic…I still have the Oyster Catcher egg from that holiday somewhere I think. It sounds shocking now, especially with the decline of wildlife and bird populations, but back in the 70’s it was normal behaviour. As far as the fox skull goes, I never had one of them…although my brother did have sheep skulls which he turned into candle holders.

I found it alarmingly amusing about the number of mishaps and deaths that occurred as Chris built up his wildlife collections and merrily brought things home which would make most parents weep. It’s funny, I said to my brother, someone who is now a renowned naturalist accidentally killing all of these unsuspecting creatures when he was a child! I got “that look” from my brother who simply said, “bit like you when you were little and sat on the school gerbils I’d brought home to look after. They were flattened miniature Tiger style rugs you could have put in your Sindy house by the time you’d finished with them.” I was aghast! I refute those allegations (I really have no recollection of the incident at all- no matter how many times he tells me the sordid tale.)

If you were lucky enough to watch Chris’s BBC program “Asperger’s and Me” read this book as a follow on. It is a magical read, and one that shows we should be more tolerant of people. There is no such thing as “normal.” All of us have our idiosyncrasies, and the sooner we all learn to try and understand where people are coming from, and how they can help and influence society rather than simply being dismissed, the better.

With that said, I take a look at the bookcase and wonder if the time is right to re-read Ligotti's "The Conspiracy Against the Human Race."  No, it's far too depressing to think about... how about 1930's Russia and the stifling regime between Art and Power...now that sounds an altogether more joyful affair doesn't it?!


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