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Following on from my The ‘Little and Not So Little Things From Childhood’ game post the day before yesterday, here is the second of the five answers that I have chosen to write about in more detail.

Question 1 in the game asked “What is the first childhood memory that comes to mind?”  and my answer was as follows…

Letting off a fire extinguisher in the church hall.  I think I was about 8 years old at the time and it was on the side of the stage in the church hall.  Everyone else was in the church hall doing stuff and I was bored so had gone exploring on the stage. I found the fire extinguisher tucked away at the side of the stage and wanted to know how it worked.  (I had a very inquiring mind.)  So when I was checking it over and trying to see how it worked I accidentally set it off.  This would have been some 44 years ago now and it was the kind that once you had set it off you couldn’t stop it.  It went everywhere and I and the surrounding area was covered in the stuff.  Man did I get into trouble for that one.

I remember it so well,  and indeed I also remember the hiding (spanking) that I got at home from my father as a result of it.   But what I also remember, even more than any of that – and trust me that hiding was memorable enough – was the injustice I felt over it all and just how misunderstood I was.


You see in my father’s eyes, my father who was a Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy and who firmly believed in discipline and that all misbehaviour needed to be addressed and paid for, I had done something very wrong.  And thus he reacted according to his belief and his parenting method.  And I really am not wanting to debate (nor indeed to start yet another debate on corporal punishment) or whether the level of discipline applied was appropriate to what he felt I had done.

Instead, what I am discussing is how in my eyes I had simply had an accident as a result of doing something new and different.  And, let’s be realistic here, as a result of having a very inquiring mind and trying to learn.

The fact is that what we see isn’t always what is happening.  As this little clip from the BBC television program QI will demonstrate…

I openly agree that – had I deliberately set off the fire extinguisher as a gesture of some rebelliousness or displeasure, or even as an act of mischievousness – some form of discipline would have been called for.  And, as my children will no doubt attest, I am in no way opposed to discipline.  But isn’t it important to find out the facts and to understand the motivation behind things before you actually judge those things and indeed the person doing them?

And that is the point isn’t it?  To a lot of people what they would have seen was simply a fire extinguisher.  But to me, a young lad complete with an inquiring mind and yet with the absence of the filters that many others seemed to  have, I saw a device which I needed to understand the mechanics of.  Why?  Because I simply see things differently and had a hunger to understand things.

And isn’t mental illness or poor mental health sometimes similar to that?  Don’t those of us who have it sometimes – if not often – see things differently, perceive and understand things differently?

If we are ever to bring about what we term as a ‘healing’ or ever to truly help those of us who have mental illness or poor mental health don’t we first have to realize and accept this.  And having done so isn’t it important that those who don’t see, perceive or understand things in the way we do, try to understand, to catch a glimpse of, our perception.  Isn’t it important that they look beyond the behaviours or the comments or the attitudes and try to find the person, the people, behind them and to see things from our eyes.

Because how else are they ever going to be able to truly and fairly judge?

And isn’t it important to understand that maybe, just maybe, sometimes they are the ones who have it wrong?  After all, doesn’t history show us that many of the greatest minds and greatest discoveries and advances mankind has made have arisen out of seeing things, thinking things, approaching things, differently?

Extinguisher boyMuch is made about the stigma attached to mental illness and I absolutely agree that this stigma is so very wrong.  But that stigma, much like the damage that was done in the situation of the young boy I once was and the fire extinguisher, arises out of a misunderstanding and a failure to see that “different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or broken.”