Saturday, June 25, 2016

Ordinary People...

It was very sunny and hot last night in our town.  Because of the heat and the fact that we ate a seven course dinner on Thursday night, Bill and I decided to stay home and watch movies.  We watched Thelma & Louise... or, at least I did.  Bill was preoccupied by a new toy.  Then I ended up downloading Ordinary People.

Ordinary People is a wonderful film that was released in 1980.  I was eight years old in 1980, so I was a little too young to appreciate that film when it was new.  Nine or ten years later, I took a high school psychology class.  My teacher was very fond of using movies, especially televised "movies of the week", to illustrate certain psychological conditions.  I can understand why she liked to employ that technique.  Since we had daily fifty minute periods with her, a good movie of the week could keep us occupied and entertained for several days.

For instance, she wanted to teach us about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, so we watched Small Sacrifices over the course of a week.  I remember she also showed us The Karen Carpenter Story, a film I've seen many times, in order to teach us about anorexia nervosa.  That particular film was entertaining, but it was pretty dramatized.  I even watched parts of it yesterday and cringed at how hokey it is.  She showed us Sybil to teach us about what used to be known as multiple personality disorder.  To teach us about survivor's guilt and closed off mothers, she showed us Ordinary People.

This particular teacher, by the way, was also a big fan of paperback books about people with issues.  I remember one assignment she gave us was to read a true story about someone-- true crime, an autobiography, or a biography-- and do a written and oral report on it.  I chose to read Starving For Attention by Cherry Boone O'Neill.  My teacher had not read the book, so she read it and commented on how skinny Cherry was in the photos.  I remember other people read books by Ann Rule.  Someone else reported on super creepy Cameron Hooker, who enslaved a woman in a box for years.  I think I may have gotten my love of true crime from that class.  I bet psych teachers are no longer allowed to teach by showing movies and having students read true crime.  What a pity.

But anyway, the first time I watched Ordinary People, I was a teenager.  Though the film was only about ten years old the first time I saw it (the equivalent of it having been made in 2006 today), I remember thinking it was dated even then.  I probably felt that way because of the scene where the lead character, Conrad (played by cutie pie Timothy Hutton), was at McDonald's with a girlfriend and a bunch of unruly kids come in and sing the McDonald's jingle that was popular at the time.

"Nobody can do it like McDonald's can!"  This ad actually makes me nostalgic for the days when I enjoyed eating fast food.

I do remember the film made an impression on me.  I thought it was a good movie, though maybe I didn't reflect on it as much as I could have at the time.  What can I say?  I was only 17 years old.  

Timothy Hutton wins an award for Ordinary People...

Though Bill was not really into watching the first part of the movie, he did finally join me at a crucial part of the film, as viewers get a real look at what is plaguing Conrad and his parents.  The small family was left behind after their beloved older son, Buck, was killed in a boating accident.  Conrad had been there when his brother died, wasn't able to save him, and was left with crushing survivor's guilt.  After the accident, Conrad had attempted and failed to commit suicide.  His mother was ashamed of him, thought the counseling was a waste of time, and couldn't show him the love and acceptance he needed.  His father was trying very hard to hold his marriage and his son together.  

Conrad went to see a psychiatrist named Dr. Berger (played by Judd Hirsch).  He's resistant to therapy at first.  He thinks it's a waste of time.  But Dr. Berger is insightful, empathetic, and patient, and eventually, they get to the root of Conrad's problems.  That leads to a very emotional breakthrough that ultimately leads to healing.

Conrad's breakthrough

Bill's mother took him to see Ordinary People when he was a teenager.  At the time, he was too young to appreciate it.  Now that he's much more mature, I caught him looking at the film with different eyes.  As he watched the above scene, his eyes filled with tears.  He was profoundly moved watching a young man in pain having a breakthrough and confronting his pain. 

I've often told Bill that I think he would benefit from talking to a good therapist.  That's not because I think he's "crazy" or distressed, but more because he's really been through a lot.  We've been married thirteen years and I'm still learning about some things that he's faced in his past.  Although I can comfort him, my viewpoint is bound to be biased and limited in perspective. 

He smiled at me and said that I had helped him a great deal.  I'm glad to hear that, though as his wife and an educated but unlicensed social worker, I'm not exactly the best person to help him make sense of his past.  For one thing, when it comes to Bill, I lack objectivity.  Because I love him, I sometimes slip into sympathy rather than empathy.  

For another thing, though only a couple of courses separated me from what becoming is known as a "micro" social worker (I went macro), the two courses and the accompanying internship made me more of a administrator than a clinician.  So even if I were practicing social work, I probably wouldn't be in a job that would have me counseling people one on one.  I was actually trained to manage those people.  

I myself saw a therapist for several years.  At the beginning of my time talking with a licensed clinical psychologist, I really needed help.  I was very depressed, anxious, and occasionally feeling suicidal.  I don't know how serious I was about planning to kill myself-- probably not very.  I was in a lot of distress, though, and I was miserable.  If I hadn't done something, I might have ultimately become so desperately mired in hopelessness that I might have gone ahead and done something drastic.  

It took several months before I started feeling better.  I needed medication and talk therapy.  I did things like going jogging at a local park and taking voice lessons to jar my body out of its heavy depressed state.  Finally, I started feeling much better, stronger, and ready to make my own decisions.  I broke out of depression and moved on with my life, though for the first years, I had some setbacks.  As time went on, I learned how to let more things roll off my back.  Even when I get upset now, it doesn't last like it used to.  I find that I care less about things that used to put me in a tailspin for days.  Things that used to overwhelm me and make me cry no longer do.  In fact, I rarely cry anymore.  I used to cry all the time.  It's like my body can't do it anymore.

These days, I struggle a lot more with anxiety than depression.  I worry about all kinds of things, mostly stuff that I can't control.  I think about what could happen and drive myself crazy.  Bill worries when I worry, mainly because he wants me to be happy and feel safe.  But I think I would take the feeling of anxiety over soul crushing depression any day.  I thank my shrink for helping me overcome those feelings.  I guess watching Ordinary People made me remember that time in my life when I was a little lost like Conrad.  I am fortunate in that some people helped me past that time.

"Mothers don't hate their sons..."

Incidentally, I read last night that shortly after Ordinary People was released, Mary Tyler Moore lost her only son.  I wonder how this film affected her in the aftermath of dealing with that loss.  Having to face her own personal tragedy must have made this particular film especially hard for Mary Tyler Moore.  She had taken her son, Richie, to a screening of it just months before he died after accidentally shooting himself.

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