Sunday, 8 October 2006

"One in Five" published October 8, 2006

The wonderful thing about research is that it gives us all the opportunity to take the litmus test of life. The average person has sex twice a month – cool, so if you have it 2.5 times a month you’re Above Average. The average age of a resident of Grey Lynn is 34 – cool, if you’re 38 you’re Above Average. One in five Kiwis are mental – cool, you’re not mental so once again welcome to the Above Average club.
Of course the problems begin when you have sex every day, are a 65-year-old Grey Lynn resident, and you’re actually feeling a bit mental. Oh my God I’m not normal.
Who gave research people, most probably sociologists with Government funding the right to tell us what is, or isn’t normal?
Did cave man and woman have to pick up their stone tablet delivered by the dinosaur to their cave door and be confronted with the news that most cave people exist on an exclusive diet of meat, shit in the bush and hang elephant tusks from their ceilings for decoration? No. They just woke up, chewed on an ear of corn, went for a shit on the campfire embers where it is nice and warm and makes good fuel before returning inside to gaze at the glow worms on their ceiling. And felt quite content.
Today feeling content is just wrong and there’s always a handy piece of research to tell you why. There’s a whole industry of feel better material possessions or food just waiting for you to read the paper and get worried. Our personal debt is too high. We drink too much or not enough to prevent heart disease. And thanks to Marsden funded research into the orgasm, we will soon know whether we are orgasmically normal or not. Thank God. Reading the paper these days is like hopping on the scales one morning and spending the rest of the day ready to slit your wrists because in 24 hours you gained five kilos. Or perhaps your scales are mental today because latest research shows that 8 out of 10 scales read incorrectly at least once a month according to the cycle of the moon and the magnetic force field surrounding gravity’s pull.
It takes a very secure person with a strong ego not unlike that of a celebrity to withstand the constant barrage of surveys. To live in a house which doesn’t look like a space station with nothing but white, silver and clear surfaces. It’s called clutter, and nine out of 10 people live in it despite what you read in “home” magazines. To eat butter, not some horrible chemical spread invented in an American laboratory to prevent cholesterol. To let our kids eat junk food because they’re kids and that’s what you do when you’re a kid.
But by far the worst survey result cost us $8 million to tell us that one in five New Zealanders will suffer a mental health disorder in any one year. Christ we’re a nation of walking nutters, thought most people.
I wasn’t at all surprised. I’m old enough to remember the shell-shocked gentlemen in Queen St wracked with fear, ducking and diving, hands shielding their face from shellfire. To see my hairdresser greet an obviously confused street woman called Elaine and spray her hair while Elaine pirouettes and morphs into Grace Kelly, leaving with her new friends “dignity” and “pride.” To hug the Grey Lynn Park tramp when he needed a cuddle after someone beat him up…smelly, but what are you going to do? To walk past a school mother screaming her head off at another over some minor issue and think to myself “interesting way of expressing yourself.” To see the shame and humiliation on the face of yet another teenage boy arrested for shoplifting at Foodtown. To hold my 8-year-old daughter’s hand firmly and try to distract her as the cops pull over and beat the shit out of three youths with nothing but truncheons and a frightening dose of raw fury (pre-Tazer). To watch various friends battle bipolar, anxiety, schizophrenia, agoraphobia and Aspergers over the years, whether they knew they had it or not. And to recognise in myself the deep dark hole that I’ve descended into three times in my life, and treat myself for a depressive episode.
Surely we’re all a bit mental in our own way, and we’ve become accustomed to seeing and accepting the way it manifests itself around us. That’s life, and perhaps five out of five researchers should get one.

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