Other people’s battles

Pokemon battle2016 will surely go down as one of the most dismal years of all time for untimely celebrity deaths. As someone on my Facebook feed pointed out this morning: ‘I’m scared to switch on the internet. Every time I do someone dies.’ There have been two deaths over this Christmas period that struck me particularly hard. 

George Michael was the soundtrack of my teenage years. I think I still have the ‘Choose Life’ t-shirt, which I must have worn pretty much every day through the summer of 1984. I knew of course about the controversy over his sexuality when he finally came out – or rather, was hauled out, since I’m sure it wasn’t the way he’d haven chosen to do it. I was dimly aware of various illnesses over the years and talk of addiction. I had absolutely no idea – very few people did, I think – of his extraordinary under-the-radar philanthropy. And it’s heartbreaking to read now that he’d lived in such seclusion for the last year or so, with so little contact with family and friends. 

Carrie Fisher, another childhood icon, was more up front about her battles. I idolised her as Princess Leia, of course, but it was only after I read Postcards from the Edge that I felt I loved her. She was so honest and even funny about her battles – honest-funny, not fake-funny. 

The thing is of course that we’re all fighting battles that other people don’t understand. Some people are more upfront about it than others. That’s fine – there’s nothing inherently wrong with either choosing to fight your battles privately or publicly. And both of them carry risks – if you do it secretly you’ll inevitably hurt people who won’t understand why, and maybe there are people you could have helped who won’t get helped (as has been noted, George Michael being more upfront about his sexuality could have changed the cultural climate a generation of confused teenagers). But if you’re too upfront, you risk being boring or making your most private issues public property. As Carrie Fisher reportedly said:

‘The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you’re hurt.’

People fight their battles differently, but what’s clear is that even the most outwardly successful people – maybe ESPECIALLY the most outwardly successful people – are fighting personal battles, and the chance are that you have little or no idea how hard they’re fighting or how damaged they feel.

Maybe we should all wear a ‘health points’ indicator badge, like Pokemon, showing how depleted we are. Maybe we’d be nicer to each other then, try to boost each other’s health points. Until then, we can only guess. So if someone behaves badly, maybe they’re not just being a jerk: maybe they’re in an inner struggle and their ‘health points’ are low. Until we have real-world Revive potions (chocolate is the closest thing, of course, but that’s a long-term nutritional no-no, apparently), we’re just going to have to learn to look after each other a bit better.