Swings and Roundabouts

Swings and Roundabouts

Last night I watched Inside Out for the first time. It quickly became my favourite Pixar film in the first ten minutes – big claim, I know, particularly when there are so many childhood and modern classics in the back catalogue like Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Wall-E. And Up! Oh, Up. Those heart-rending opening credits of young love blossoming into old age with an inevitable ending. It’s pretty hard not to be reduced to a weepy mess unless you are dead inside. But I digress.

In my first year of university, when everything was new and emotions pinballed into each other whilst climbing a never-ending reading list, one of my peers said, “Even when you’re old, you’ll never be mentally old. You’re so excitable. It’s fun to be around.” Disclaimer: I was sober, in Costcutters and had probably just got very involved with a pack of stickers or a funny shaped potato. The cynic in me thinks she may have politely been saying I act my shoe size. I choose to ignore that and think it was because I experienced happiness in its purest form, no matter how odd the stimulus.

This is why Inside Out is such a wonderful film. It explores what goes in an 11-year-old girl’s mind anchored by a cast of five prevailing emotions as she moves town to start a new school. Since Riley’s life began, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear have helped to navigate whatever comes her way. They are in the business of creating memories and maintaining Riley’s well-being, all of which are shaped by the emotion at the mind console’s helm.  Cue trouble beginning. Joy tries to negate Sadness, but their mutual quest for dominance causes accidental expulsion from Head Quarters. Landing in the realm of long term memories, they have to return with precious core memory orbs before Riley loses all sense of self.

While I may, at times, appear to have the mentality of someone half my height, I also am a Fully Functioning Adult with a point to make. Using the emotions explored in Inside Out to write a post reflecting on the year seems like a suitable strand of analytical thinking.

Fear
Dream: I’m at work. I’m proofreading and on track to meet a huge upcoming deadline. My computer spontaneously combusts eradicating months of work. My teeth fall out as I’m calling for help. Spiders start dropping from the ceiling. The lights go out. All my friends and family have disappeared. I’m in front of a faceless crowd who are all laughing. Oh, and I’m naked.

Reality: How am I doing? Am I good at my job? Should I have a long term partner? Why don’t I have one? Or a mortgage. Or a pet (you’re allergic, forget that). How about a baby? See three questions back. Have I killed my succulent? Is it possible to kill a succulent? If I can destroy something that requires little to no care how can I possibly look after another human being/animal/inanimate object without being locked away for accidental neglect? What if I die alone with only dead succulents for company and no one finds me until the smell starts to bother the neighbours and even then they’ll just chalk in down to vegetarian cooking or the incense I burn. Or what if –

And breathe. That’s fear. Continual anxiety about things that could happen whether or not they are rational or in the realms of the fantastic. Comparing life progress to another person’s, worrying your actions will never be enough, or you will never be good enough. It’s natural. Doubt is healthy, so long as it’s no crippling. I think (hope) the succulent is ok…

Disgust
Lychees. Aren’t they the worst?

For a brief background, and a chance to show off my Psychology A-Level knowledge, much has been written on the difference between disgust and fear in relation to phobias. The most common cause of phobias is conditioning – a learned response associated with a stimulus that recurs whenever it is present. The most common phobias are based around animals, social interactions, water, heights etc.

Disgust, however, can be viewed as an evolutionary mechanism to avoid disease or death. Spiders, for example, are a common phobia because they are seen as completely alien compared to humans. This is, in part, due to their appearance, specifically the way they move and catch prey. It is these alien elements that cause disgust, meaning the ability to relate or understand the spider adds to the fear of it.

The disgust response is also influenced by a range of factors including culture, morality or personal experience. It can even be used as a tool to undermine social groups.

The media is a champion at dehumanising elements they deem disgusting. One only has to look at the way in which refugees were initially treated to see that  ‘otherness’ is capitalised on to provoke a specific emotional response from the reader.

Stateside this same trope is applied, allowing the prevalence of inherent racism in the US police force to cause unnecessary deaths of minorities. Donald Trump’s hateful and dangerous opinions are big red flags of this behaviour. Yuck is too mild a word.

Anger
One tiny flame of provocation is sometimes all it takes to start a bonfire. Looking back at this year, so many things have enraged my itchy Twitter fingers and fuelled drunken debates.

This is why I try (and often fail) not to talk about politics or ideologies with people I’ve just met. I care a lot, about a lot. Sometimes it’s hard to meter passion and aggression. Being angry is tiring, particularly when you feel change is not in the hands of the majority and democracy is rapidly becoming outdated, but any engagement in methods aiming to induce change are not wasted ones. Next year will be the year of protest, not angry pub chat (sorry Ricky). There are many voices as passionate as mine, undoubtedly more so, and I want to stand with them.

Sadness
A second skin, default state, square one, lowest of the low. Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

The everlasting helter skelter. A slide that is impossible to get off. Spiralling down rapidly at the outset, until the pace slows and more inadequacies hop on for the ride. As time drips like molasses, unpleasant memories project from an unfeeling lens in the darkness. Still sinking, flickering passed the first argument with a best friend, a time when an unforgivable error was made, the loss of many loved ones. Today’s in-flight movie is sponsored by self loathing. Thank you for flying with No one Careways. If you ever alight, Rock Bottom will be your destination, population: you.

This one doesn’t need much explaining. The stimulus is wide reaching; the scale of depression is a large one and sometimes a good cry will make you feel better. But the weep of despair, when all hope is truly lost, is one I hope I’m lucky enough never to emit.

Joy
Recently, I took myself to the Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood. Though I was the only solo adult there, I experienced a mixture of nostalgia, excitement and awe at the costumes, kites, magic lanterns and toys of yore. More recently, I went to an aquarium. Upon turning a corner, jellyfish floated in deep red and neon blue ovals. The luminous lampshades were in various periods of growth, from a polyp, to an adult Aurelia aurita. It was magical. I gasped so loudly, a family of four looked around in shock.

Now, at 25, I can just about get away with this behaviour (I probably can’t). But that’s not why I do it. Though I do know if I carry on saying hello to every dog I meet when I’m in my 50s, it ain’t gonna be cute. I think; if you see something that makes you happy, why temper your response? The world is full of truly unpleasant people who choose to make life awful for those around them. Of course there are degrees of negative actions, but it is that initial germ of displeasure that often provokes them. I really try to do one nice thing for somebody every day because life is too short to be a horrible person.

I’m coming to accept, and will continue to navigate, the need for balance. Not everything is black and white. Each shade of emotional make up plays a part in how one interacts with the world. If your body is telling you to take a run, or a pill, or pet a kitten to achieve internal balance, do it. Whatever keeps you going. Everyone has days when they don’t want to get out of bed, feel like punching a wall, or are so happy they could burst. It’s all part of the wonderful diversity that makes up the seven billion people populating this planet.

The brain is an infinitely complex array of chemicals and synapses and a Pixar movie is not a prescriptive one size fits all approach to the emotional spectrum. There are far more eloquent people than one cold-ridden writer to tell you why we feel what we do and how people act on their impulses, but the point is:

Inside Out. Watch it. You probably have. If not, you definitely should.

Image credit: Pixar, via Screenrant.

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