WHY JIM MORRISON KNEW ALL THE THINGS
PSYCHOLOGY + THE WILL TO BE WEIRD
If you remember the 90's you'll remember the resurgence of The Doors. The Doors, the rock band, featuring the ultra cool infamous frontman and rock god Jim Morrison burst onto the music scene like a comet in 1967. Their self titled debut album, was filled with all the songs you know, Light my Fire, Break on Through, The End. The list goes on and on. My personal favorite album, Morrison Hotel came much later in 1970. Peace Frog, if you've never heard it, is amazing and weird and chaotic. It's a kick ass rock song anyway you cut it. I still remember the first time I heard that song. Sitting in my friends old Volvo station wagon, eating Boston creme donuts. "Hold everything, you need to hear this song, he said." It turns out some things are more important than donuts.
That afternoon in the Volvo was the beginning of my total teenage fascination with Jim Morrison. It coincided with the release of The Doors biopic in 1991. Val Kilmer was a total dish back then and seeing him on the big screen for a few hours in leather pants was pretty excellent. That year my friend and I absorbed every single little thing we could find on Jim Morrison. His poetry, performance style, interviews, clothes - we would both purchase leather pants and stamped silver concho belts - I still have the belt. We were obsessed.
Along our journey to Jim, we came across a quote that it turns out I have kind of kept in my back pocket all these years. It goes like this, "WHERE'S YOUR WILL TO BE WEIRD?" Jim Morrison was weird. Thank God. And in 1967 he was super weird. In ways that were both magnetic and repulsive to a late 1960's audience sitting upon the precipice of a major social and cultural revolution. It was hard to find someone who didn't have a strong opinion about Jim Morrison. It was a love/hate thing. Not much space in between.
You might imagine what a quote like that could mean to a young teenage girl, trying to figure out all the things. It meant a lot. Weird was something that felt comfortable to me and getting permission from Jim Morrison, well that felt awesome. It wasn't about fitting in or being easy. It was about being adventurous enough to sit in the strange. The uncomfortable. The unknown. Be in the shit. In its essence, WHERE'S YOUR WILL TO BE WEIRD was an invitation to get internal. Do the work. Know thyself. It's weird out there. It's weird in here. Let's go there. Sure thing Jim. You bring the leather pants.
I found myself thinking of this quote many, many years later, as a psychotherapist working with adolescents in acute crisis. For anyone, suddenly finding yourself behind the doors of a psychiatric unit is something that takes getting used to. It’s a lot. A lot. Add to that being a kid and that a lot becomes a ton. Outside of any acute symptoms that are part of psychosis, severe depression or mania, there are a whole host of feelings that come with trying to navigate a new system, with new people, and new rules, all on your own, without your friends and family. What does one do while at a psychiatric unit. No one really talks about that stuff. It is brand new and weird. Everything is weird. You feel weird. You worry what your friends will think, what your parents will say and if you will ever feel like yourself again. Also, you’re like 16 so who really are you anyway? Is this who you are? Are you just this thing that has happened to you? No, definitely not, but at 16 you don't know that yet. You are certain that this time and this diagnosis will be what soley defines your life. And you feel completely and utterly stuck in this.
Because of all this uncertainty both internally and externally, one of the most important desired outcomes when working with an acute population is to reinforce what is called the name and claim. Simply, it means you have to name it to claim it. Or acknowledge it to heal. Have a feeling, name what it is. Claim it. Seems simple, but it can be really hard to do. This is difficult for adults alone , and with teens in most cases no one has ever taught them how to do this. It is a skill. And like all other skills, it takes some practice. Helping patients identify what they are feeling and then be able to name it accurately or at least in the general ballpark is really important. In this naming, it also allows them to see other patients feeling similarly, that they are not alone, and that the feelings do not last forever. And that’s really at the bottom of it. Naming and claiming is really showing them that whatever they are feeling, will change, no matter how terrifying it may feel.
Part of being any kind of clinician is finding a way to connect. We each find our way. What feels true to us. At the beginning of your career you try on a lot of hats, test things out, what you read, what you hear from your colleagues and mentors,, you try and see what feels true to you. Truth is important. Truth is paramount. If it doesn’t feel true, sit right, feel natural, well patients, especially kids see right through it. Bullshit they call. And they are not wrong. As I found my way as a clinician, I learned that there were a few things that worked really well for me consistently. One was humor. I have a very dry sense of humor and this seemed to really work well with teens. Second was to reframe misbehavior as coming from a place of passion. Kids fuck up. A lot. Adults do too, but no one has written a kids future in stone yet and this must be honored. Most kids do things out of passion, whether they realize it or not. Shit is important, they act on it. That’s passion. And passion is good. And last was to not respond like a parent. Parents want to make things better. We do not want hard times to fall on our kids. We want them to know that everything will be okay. Sometimes we so desperately want everything to be okay our own anxiety takes over and we forget to sit in the shit with our kids. As a caring adult who is not a parent, not a family member, not a friend, I needed to be the one who would sit in the shit. As I learned how I was most effective at sitting in the shit with my patients I found that kids mostly just want their feelings validated. But it was more than that. A simple repeating of how they were feeling seemed hollow. Validating the name and claim was a start, but the fear and vulnerability was so deep, they needed more. I had to reach another layer. I quite accidentally landed on what became my go to response while working with a patient who was in the throws of a very dramatic bipolar episode.They were angry and scared and they were pushing as hard as they could against all boundaries. Nothing felt safe to them and this was reflected in their behavior on the unit. At the end of a group session they approached me and just started yelling. About everything. Being pissed, angry, like a prisonr locked inside this shit hole. Screaming all of the things. All legitimate. What they needed at that moment was an adult to let them know that they were not afraid of how they were feeling. So I simply said, yeah, “it would be weird if you weren’t.” A way of saying, this whole situation is weird. So let’s lean into that and think about how weird it would be if you were fine with every single thing going on around you. How fucked up would that be? Pretty fucked up. In fact it would be a pretty big red flag that things were not going well if nothing ever bothered you. And that was it. It would be weird if you weren’t instantly dropped the pressure in the room. They stopped. Stopped screaming, stopped raging. Just stopped. Then a laugh, and an agreement. Yeah at least they weren't so fucked up that none of this bothered them. That would be really weird.
That would be really weird.
So here we are. Right now. Today. There’s a lot of weird shit going on. Lots. Like the most I've ever seen, and to be honest I've seen some really weird shit. If there is one mantra that has gotten me through the past months and other times that seemed impossibly challenging it is a constant reminder that if I truly felt 100% like myself, that would be pretty damn weird. Tired. Yep, angry, yep. Scared, yep, so sad I cannot even believe it sometimes, yep. Confused, oh yeah. Sleepy, not sleepy, hungry, not hungry. All of the things. All feels new and weird, but imagine how truly weird it would be to feel unaffected.
I guess what I’m saying is, yeah, I feel weird too. We all do. And that’s appropriate. Feeling off is an appropriate response to grief, trauma, fear, change, all of the things that we are faced with right now. Collectively and individually. Start there. Also know that we all have different tolerances for feeling off. Getting help is a good thing. Talking to someone is a good thing. Learning more about how unweird feeling weird is right now is a great thing. Reach out, stay connected, talk to somemone. Looking for a place to start? You can always call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. They help you locate referrals to mental health specialists near you. It’s national and available 24 hours a day. It’s a good thing. Almost as good as leather pants, boston creme donuts and a silver concho belt. That’s some good weird.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here.