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Picking your battles and having perspective



Last week my partner and I went to see Clash, an incredibly powerful and immersive Egyptian drama about protestors from different sides of the conflict trapped in a police truck. I highly recommend seeing it. It was screened in the Gallery at the Tyneside Cinema, a small space with only three rows of seats. As the opening credits began, 2 people came in noisily, sat behind us, and proceeded to talk and munch loudly with open mouths on popcorn. They were hardly at the omniplex to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I cannot abide, or indeed cope with, that kind of noise. My choices were:

  1. Move. Why should I? Plus the noise would continue to be a problem, possibly not just for me. 
  2. Have an anxiety attack. Why should I? What would it achieve apart from harm to myself and upset to others?
  3. Say something about it.

I did the latter. I said aloud, ‘Are you going to eat like that the whole time? Because that’s disgusting.’ The first part was sufficient, and raised a murmur of agreement from another viewer nearby (we were six in total). The second part I’ll admit was unnecessary and served to shame another person for their sonic interjections. It was a spurt of mini rage. We can close our eyes and choose to avert our gaze; it can be more difficult not to hear. And truthfully, the noise did disgust me, and triggered my anxiety to the point of pain. It also has no place in a cinema; I refer you to the code of conduct:


As soon as the end credits began, there was a loud, ‘Let’s just go’ from behind us, and quite expressive climbing over seats and flouncing out of the space. This pair had laughed at mild moments of comic relief as if it was The Hangover 4 and whispered through sequences in which the sound design was integral to creating high tension in the hot, claustrophobic confines of the film’s space (the camera/film’s point of view remains within the truck). What did they think they were there to see?

My partner and I discussed all of this on the way home. He observed the mini-conflict between strangers that played out on a micro scale in the confined, darkened cinema space before a film depicting extremes of contemporary conflict and oppression within another kind of confined, darkened space. Playing devil’s advocate, he suggested that perhaps some perspective was needed as what we just witnessed sat in tension with what I was angry about.

It is true, I am unusually hypersensitive to sound, especially when my anxiety spikes. I was repeatedly removed from the film and struggled to focus on its complexities because of that person talking and crunching. How am I supposed to find perspective when my engagement with the film and its events were continually disrupted by a person acting privately in a public space? Why am I supposed to let it go when I am not able to work but chose to spend a precious £18.50 on us seeing a rare film relevant to my broader research interests only to have the experience tainted by someone else whose money must be expendable to them?

I argued that if we don’t speak out against one or two people ruining a cultural experience and disrespecting such a film, then our silence potentially makes us complicit in more significant social injustices. It might seem like I’m speaking out of proportion. Perhaps many will agree that I should have let it be, but I am sick to the back teeth of other people’s assholery. Where does it stop? Where is the line of perspective and how do we know it has been crossed? When should I be quiet and tolerant and when should I speak out against injustice? Should people not be made aware when something they do recreationally causes distress or disruption to another, especially when all they need do is be a grown adult who eats with their damn mouth closed and shuts the hell up during public film screenings? If we are to be kind to each other for a better future for all, it must be at all levels. Our actions filter up and out as well as down and in.

I continue to struggle with the notion of perspective this week. I’ve been feeling stronger lately after restorative trips to Belfast and Whitby in April, and achieving lots of DIY jobs at home. I thought I was almost recovered from my difficulties earlier this year. However, my anxiety and related problems have flared up, I think due to a heady cocktail of increased interaction with others, feeling frustrated at not getting any writing done, worrying about my mind feeling blank and an inability to remember things, and intense concern about politics. I suppose it’s a general feeling of lacking control. If I’m given a task, I’ll get on with it. Deciding for myself what tasks to embark on and how is challenging. Then I get annoyed at how basic that should be, and that it was never a block before.

A current difficultly is trying to get money I’m owed from my letting agent in Manchester. They told me I would have to pay £100 as a fee for early termination of my contract and would have to continue paying rent until the flat was let. I would be refunded for the days covered by the new tenants. Fair enough. Except it was let ages ago and the refund cheque for £275 hasn’t come and they’re trying to take £120 off my deposit return. £295 is an awful lot of money when you’re not earning. I have phoned and emailed but have been ignored and fobbed off onto someone who’s conveniently never in the office. It ought to be a simple task to badger them until they do as they said in writing they would do. But my heart is in my throat constantly. I have to think about every breath. I feel very tired all the time (thankfully not fatigued like back in March). I need to conserve what energy I have to see through new commitments I’ve taken on to try to get well enough to work. Do I let it go and take what the agent has offered from the deposit, or do I fight for the nearly £300 they’re withholding?

Believe me, I appreciate how ridiculous it sounds to not be able to make a phone call to get something back that’s mine. My mind is in constant argument with itself. Anxiety can be crippling; and I refer to generalized anxiety as a disorder, not feeling a bit anxious about something. Here’s an example of the train of thought:

Come on, you need the money. This is silly.
But I just can’t. I can’t cope with it today.
It needs to be done, and no one else can do it.
I know. I want to be able to.
Stop over-thinking it. Just do it. Be blank, have no expectations.
But they repeatedly fob me off or promise it’s coming, or act like I’m bothering them for nothing. It’s exhausting and I need to be in good form for such-and-such today.
Stop blocking yourself.
I know, you’re right. It’s dragging on, but I just can’t.
They need to be held to account. Companies can’t keep getting away with treating people like this. If you let this go, you let your own principles down.
I know. I need to try. I should research my legal rights. Probably as usual I won’t have any.
Stop blocking. Find a way. Remember what mum said; try a lateral or creative approach. If you’re anything, you’re a problem solver. You can do this.
Mmmm.

Rationally I know what needs to be done in just about any situation. Normally, that’s what I’d do. The anxiety is so severe just now that I feel paralysed, blocked. This adds a new dimension to picking your battles, or at least being slow about fighting them.

I believe revolutions happen at all levels. The micro is as important and political as the macro, because it’s our testing ground and establishes our own limitations, tolerances and acceptances. If I continue to overcome small hurdles it can only prepare me for more big ones ahead. The last big one damn well broke me, and I don’t want to be that vulnerable ever again.

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