Folk who have been following my recent ‘Of Roses, Walls and Towers’ series will no doubt know that I have been looking at the level of isolation in my life and considering my own responsibilities in this respect as well as how my mental health effects this.
Certainly, although that series has now finished, my considerations on this subject has far from finished and actually I imagine that it will no doubt go on for a while. This morning, when I awoke from a particularly late night, it was still on my mind and along with it came the phrase “Square Peg In A Round Hole.”
‘Square Peg In Round Hole’ – an idiomatic expression for someone who just does not fit in.
So this morning I am officially announcing my Square Peg In A Round Hole status!
[Please accept my apologies but the brass-band playing the official fanfare accompanying that announcement only performs inside my head. Please use your own imagination to add that effect.]
‘A Square Peg in a Round Hole’ – someone who simply doesn’t fit in. Yes that is very much who I am. I am indeed a square peg to society’s round holes. Which I must admit amuses me somewhat given my somewhat bulbous and barrel like shape. But then again it is after all only an idiomatic expression and let’s be honest here, for me to expect society to change from being round holes into being square holes just to accommodate my rotundness is I think a little pretentious.
Likewise, it is also somewhat counter-intuitive since the expression itself indicates that I just do not fit in and so the thought of all of society changing just to accommodate or fit in with my not fitting in is, I think, a step to far.
No the plain simple fact of the matter is that I am indeed a Square Peg and I simply don’t fit into society’s round holes.
But then again I would have to ask whether my squareness as a peg is at fault here or whether the fault lies with the fact that society seeks to have perfectly round holes and for everyone to conform to this.
Does society seek to have perfectly round holes? Is that a true statement?
Actually the shape isn’t so much the issue here, is it? It is the requirement for conformity, the exacting parameters that all too often shape the expectations that are employed, that can often cause the problem.
Now don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that we have come on leaps and bounds from attitudes and approaches of years gone past but the plain simple fact is that I am still convinced that an expectation for ‘normality’ still exists and that when it comes to mental illness, well it just has not yet been fully invited to the ‘normality party’.
But Mental illness or poor mental health (depending on your preference, or experience) is indeed increasingly widespread. If you visit the Mental Health Foundation website and look up some of their statistics you will come across this statement…
“It is estimated that approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem. (World Health Organisation, 2001)” 1
Or this one..
“1 in 4 British adults experience at least one diagnosable mental health problem in any one year, and 1 in 6 experiences this at any given time.”(The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001) 1
‘An estimated 450 MILLION’ people worldwide and ’1 in 4 British Adults’ and let us not miss the fact that a) those figures are now 11 years out of date concerning a problem that we know is on a high rate of increase and b) there are numerous folk who suffer with poor mental health and who for one reason or another have not come forward or sought treatment for it.
In respect of America, The National Institute of Mental Health, on their website, demonstrates a steady increase in Mental Health Service Use/Treatment among U.S. Adults between the years 2004 and 2008. They list the percentage of U.S. Adults using Mental Health Services or receiving Mental Health Service Treatment in 2008 as being a staggering 13.4% 2
Again, we need to recognize that this 13.4% figure is in respect of a situation which we know is on a steady high rate of increase and is 4 years out of date. How high do you think that figure will be today? And yet still folk experiencing poor mental health find acceptance and the ability or freedom to ‘fit in’ so very hard to achieve.
Now within society – a large, somewhat nondescript and often distant entity – this is hard enough to handle if you are the one not fitting in, but when that inability or lack of freedom to fit in is closer to home, more localized, more intimate it is a much more painful and can be a much more harmful thing.
Historically speaking, the phrase ‘A Square Peg In A Round Hole’ was first published around 1873 in book called ‘Kenelm Chillingly, His Adventures and Opinions’ and written by the british writer Edward Bulwer Lynton. The dialogue in which it appeared within this book, in my opinion at least, extremely interesting…
In this part of the book the lead character (Kenelm Chillingly) whilst speaking to a farmer about his son, comments, “Does it not prove that no man, however wise, is a good judge of his own case?” and continues “Now, your son’s case is really your case —- you see it through the medium of your likings and dislikings, and insist upon forcing a square peg into a round hole, because in a round hole you, being a round peg, feel tight and comfortable. Now I call that irrational.”
The farmer responds, “I don’t see why my son has any right to fancy himself a square peg … when his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, have been round pegs; and it is agin’ nature for any creature not to take after its own kind.”
I have to admit, that one piece of dialogue brings me both pleasure and discomfort. I chuckle at the irony of it and indeed the familiarity of the scene that is set before us in it whilst at the same time I am deeply saddened by the obvious and sad inability to accept that which is ‘out of the ordinary’ not ‘what was expected’ not ‘the way the rest of us are’. And what is more I am deeply saddened by the fact that this piece of dialogue features in a book published some 139 years ago or so and yet the harmful attitudes represented within it are all too often still present today.
I am a 50-year-old man. I am the size of a small bouncy castle (and about as bouncy but hopefully not as full of hot air) and I experience extremely poor physical and mental health. Additionally I live alone in a country hundreds of miles away from my closest living biological or adopted family member (other than my son) and thousands of miles away from the majority of my adopted family members. BUT I am blessed.
My need or desire to fit in and any subsequent inability to fit in with my family is not as physically present or as obvious on a day-to-day basis as some folk have to experience.
It is still a very real need and still a very real source of pain and discomfort for me when it doesn’t happen but it is not something that I have to encounter or face as often as many others.
Additionally my adopted family – with whom I have the most contact – are very used to mental health issues and have been incredibly understanding of my poor mental health and any resultant poor or odd behavior on my part and they (like my son) have stuck with me through the most difficult of times.
I have said and done things in the past that I am incredibly sorry for and I openly accept that I often see things and sometimes behave in a way that can be off-putting and even distressing to others.
Am I a ‘Square Peg In A Round Hole’? Absolutely I am! Do I find it difficult to fit in? Absolutely I do! Does this often cause discomfort or friction? Absolutely it does! But I ask you this…
“Is the problem my inability to fit in with you, or your inability to accommodate who I am, or perhaps, just perhaps could it be a little of both?”