In a world of friends you lose your way

Posted by in March's Magazine

The rock death cult is well loved and chronicled in literature and music, but in practice, there ain’t much in it for the singer and his song, except a good life unloved, lovers and children left behind and a six-foot-deep hole in the ground. The exit in a blaze of glory is bullshit’. (Bruce Springsteen Born to Run, Simon & Schuster £20).

Having recorded Nebraska and with half of Born in the USA in the can Springsteen embarked on a cross America road trip, East to West, with his pal. After 10 days of driving Springsteen arrives at his new home and has what he terms an event. His depression is ‘spewing like an oil spill…its black sludge is threatening to smother every last living part of me’… He calls his manager Jon Landau who listens and recommends getting professional help.


‘I started talking, and it helped. Immediately, over the next few weeks, I regained some equilibrium; I felt myself steadying, righting myself. I’d danced and driven my way, all on my own (sans drugs or alcohol), to the brink of my big Black Sea, but I hadn’t jumped in. By the grace of God and the light of friends I wouldn’t live and die there… I hoped’. Through this talking and through therapy he acquires the skills to recognise that his Dad suffered in the same way.
Doug Springsteen makes similar road trips and occasional disappearances. On one such 500-mile trip Doug called on his son:

‘Bruce, you’ve been very good to us…and I wasn’t very good to you. A small silence caught us. You did the best you could, I said. He’d come to tell me, on the eve of my fatherhood, that he loved me, and to warn me to be careful, to do better, to not make the same painful mistakes he’d made’. Bruce talks about how he ‘learned many a rough lesson from my father – the rigidity and the blue-collar narcissism of ‘manhood’ 1950s style, a deep attraction to silence, secrets and secretiveness’.

The Springsteen family experience of course is not unique to blue-collar America. Here in Scotland SAMH (The Scottish Association for Mental Health) tell us that two people in Scotland commit suicide each day. Each year one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Established in 1923, Samh have built up a lot of resources and expertise in that time, all of which are available online to help that one in four and those closest to them to recover from what Bruce Springsteen calls (and still suffers from) events.

Use of words such as ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ may hide a deeper problem, and the resistance of Scottish men to expressing their feelings without copious amounts of alcohol is notorious. Baiting each other in conversation is a sport hereabouts, with some folks doing their utmost to specialise in the withering put down of which ‘ah kent his faither’ is a good example. When this cuts to the quick and draws blood or the threat of blows, sometimes a hasty retreat with ‘it’s only banter’ is used as defence for the indefensible.

Talking honestly about our feelings is still not the ‘done thing’ despite the fact that every year we celebrate the work of Robert Burns who did fully express his feelings whether it was love, indebtedness, the fickleness of others politics or just the wonders of nature.

So how do we facilitate this process? The New Economic Foundation suggests the following five ways to better wellbeing.

Connect. Staying in touch with loved ones can make us feel happier and more secure; spend five minutes asking someone how they are, arrange to meet friends you haven’t seen for ages, meet people in your community’

Be Active. It’s good for physical health and has a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing; walk at lunchtime, discover a physical activity you enjoy, try the NHS’s Couch to 5K programme.

Take Notice. Whether with friends or alone stop to take notice, be aware of the present; try to practise mindfulness, be aware how friends or colleagues are feeling, spend time outdoors in the fresh air and try to see what’s around you.

Learn. It enhances self-esteem and confidence and is a way to meet new people; sign up for a class and learn something new, rediscover an old interest, take on a new challenge.

Give. It is very rewarding – those who report an interest in helping others are likely to rate themselves happy; volunteer for a cause you are passionate about, spend time with someone having a difficult time.

Bruce Springsteen has done us all a favour writing of his own and his father’s mental health and wellbeing. As well as being a brutally honest, well written account of his life it also reminds us to look out for the mental health and wellbeing of those we love, work and live beside.

Even the best of us falter. How are you?


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