Sunday, October 15, 2006

Speaking your mind

This morning I passed a young man in the street happily chatting away. Initially I assumed he was on the phone, but as I overtook him I realised he was chuntering away to no one in particular.

When my friend was at his most ill he talked to himself almost incessantly. It was hard work to break through, to get him to focus on you and to hold a conversation for a moment or two. I have never known if he was conversing with himself or the voices in his head.

He was living in squalor, never washed or shaved, hardly slept and ate almost nothing. For someone usually so proud of his outward appearance he seemed oblivious to his shabby attire and skinny frame.

Despite his total lack of conscious awareness something seemed to kick in when he spoke aloud in public. Somewhere within his muddled mind even he knew that it was not right. He was unable control it or to stop his constant mutterings but he did his best to disguise it. He held a clenched fist to his right ear, cocked his head to one side and chatted away as if talking on the phone. It was an ingenious act of deception and totally subconscious, I think.

The old saying tells us that ‘talking to yourself is the first sign of madness’. This is not strictly true as you can be extremely sick without engaging in the act of solo conversation. Something about this anecdote from the past has stuck with us throughout the centuries and talking to oneself remains a social taboo. This was the only piece of social etiquette that remained with my friend throughout his illness so strongly was it ingrained.

Yet we all do it, every day I suspect, well I certainly do. Only yesterday I opened my broom cupboard as a plastic bucket crashed to the floor. I squealed and cursed out loud. I talk to myself as I walk through the streets, particularly when I am lost. Little words of encouragement; ‘this must be it’ as I near the next turning, or a telling off for losing my way.

I wonder if we would all do it rather more if we weren’t so conditioned into thinking it was weird. You don’t find dogs inhibited about barking if they are alone for no one to hear. Birds joyfully chirp from the top of a tree ‘It’s time, I’m horny, come shag me!” So why do we humans fight so hard to keep it in? Perhaps we should let it out more. It only seems to come out when our guard is down, whether from shock, frustration or illness. This might lead us to believe that our natural instinct is to talk away whether in company or not.

The voice in my head is always there. I think in words as well as emotions and the voice is definitely mine. Sometimes I wonder if, when I speak, it is really that voice coming through. It may always be influenced by company or situations and adapt itself each time. I am certain that my sentences, when spoken to clients, are constructed slightly differently to when I am in the pub with my mates. The words in my head however are constant and true.

A part of me envies those with the freedom to let this voice out. I am not sure I ever do when I open my mouth. The only way I feel able to manifest my true words is to write them down in silence. Perhaps that is the pleasure, the joy and the release of composing your thoughts into written words. Words that are ultimately pure and unaffected in every way.

So maybe we should all learn a lesson from our uninhibited friends and chat and chunter a little more to ourselves. Try it tomorrow and see how it feels, go on, be brave and speak your mind.