Laughter is the Best Medicine

There was a savagery in Dylan’s teasing that was starkly at odds with his essential kindness and good-heartedness. It seemed like a vent for excess energy, like the flare on an oil rig that burns waste gas. That would fit with a diagnosis of ADHD. 

Energy doesn’t have to be expressed in so aggressive a manner, though, so perhaps he was also releasing his frustration at being trapped in this place and situation. Anorexics are a bunch of silly bastards. As we recovered, we all started to recognise how nonsensical the behaviours were. Yet we were undeniably one of their number and we had been just as foolish. All of us were ashamed of ourselves. 

I suspect it was worse for Dylan. I think he was brought up with very traditional expectations of how men should behave. His father seemed very macho – he’d worked as a bouncer, and Dylan was proud of the fights he and his brother had been in, when they’d acquitted themselves well. In a workshop, once, he’d admitted he was afraid of his dad, and then he said, “I know that sounds pathetic, a grown man scared of his own dad.” 

This was a very revealing comment. Firstly, there’s the unwarranted disdain for himself: of course he’s frightened of his dad!  We are formed, from tiny babies, in moulds of our parents’ making. A dominant and fiercely disciplinarian father will become the most formidable figure in a small child’s life, and the child is father of the man[1].

But, traditionally, men are supposed to suppress their fear, show some self-control. Or, preferably, not feel fear at all, only a sense of duty. 

I also noticed that he, a smallish, skinny 20 year old, referred to himself as “a grown man”. I’d never refer to myself as such, and I’m over twice his age. Dylan clearly felt that, by 20, he had reached his majority and should shoulder the emotionally self-effacing responsibilities of a mature silver-back, acting in an appropriately masculine way. Men should be reticent, resilient, suppressing their demons, not burdening others. Dylan felt he had let himself down. He’d been diagnosed with a weak and womanish condition: hysterical, self-indulgent. 

He was also showing up his whole family. They seemed a proud and tight-knit unit, who kept their problems to themselves. Of course, they were tremendously supportive of him, but they were also embarrassed, defensive. Simply to be diagnosed with a psychological condition was the definition of oversharing, but to be hospitalised! He was making a public spectacle of himself. 

The first time Dylan’s mother came to visit, I introduced myself to her and told her how lucky I felt to room with such a supportive and welcoming person, and how his determination to get better was inspiring me to do likewise. I think Dylan was grateful to have somebody give a good account to his mother, because I think, significantly, he sensed her disappointment. She, however, seemed cool and guarded in her response to me. I suspect she felt I was intruding on secret family business: none of mine. 

Jo and she did a one day workshop on supporting anorexics. Afterwards, Jo was upset because she felt the other participants were all claiming to have perfect home lives, while she had been confessing to the tensions we experienced. Obviously, here, also, Dylan’s mum was guarding the family’s reputation.

All this leads me to suspect that, once no longer anaesthetised by hunger, Dylan felt deeply humiliated and ashamed to be in Ascot house, among such a bunch of whining and pathetic idiots, and this feeling was at war with his sense of compassion for, and solidarity with, the rest of us. Perhaps this conflict contributed to his irritable, unmerciful humour. 


[1] Wordsworth, of course, from “My Heart Leaps Up” (1802), probably my favourite Wordsworth poem. 

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