Last night, I had the great pleasure of speaking at the Freud Museum at a conference for The International Biocentric Psychoanalysis Institute. Hosted by MC International Events.
My lecture dwelt on my issues with Dr Freud, how his theories developed mental weight and shame in my teenage years - and how his much debated theories have featured in my life.
Images by Daniella Zappala
Friday 23rd November, 2018
Freud Museum, London
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and everyone that Dr Freud did not cover in his concepts of penis envy.
Oh Dr Freud! I have blamed you for so much.
Especially my own Freudian slips.
How can a man that passed away nearly 70 years ago cause such perplexity in my academic understanding of my own life?
Now, at the age of 40, I have started to grasp an understanding of such.
And it took suffering from a severe depressive episode to get there.
And what better place than in the Freud Museum to tell my story?
I’m James McIntosh, I’m not a phycologist, or a psychiatrist, a psychoanalyst, psychotherapist and definitely not a psychopath. I’m certainly not a medical professional. I own an independent publishing company called McIntosh Publishing and my work involves the publication of books on mindfulness, food and hand knitting. I’m drafted in for after dinner speeches at times, to encourage people to pause for thought from the point of view of someone looking in through his own life experience.
Pause, being the main object of the game. To pause is healthy.
It’s amazing what we lean in life from our own experiences.
How our perceived enemy in many cases may be actually rather similar to ourselves.
Freud was mine.
Surely the outside world is just a mirror image of ourselves?
Let me explain.
Freud and myself share the same star sign. Both raging Taurus bulls. We are both interested in the penis. I assume we both had one, I know I do. The penis, a subject that I have never, as of yet published upon, but Freud did. Constantly.
We were both exiled from our respective homes to London, for different reasons. Freud fleeing the Nazis as they entered Austria and myself from homophobia in my beloved Northern Ireland. Both of us having, I’m sure, to relive the ghosts of the past that dwelt deeply in both our heads and hearts. We are both equally qualified to talk on such matters.
Freud read a lot of Shakespeare during his life and Harold Bloom the literary critic is famous for suggesting Freud’s understanding of human psychology many have been partly derived from Shakespeare’s plays.
Let’s tease this out.
Looking at my life in parallel to Dr F’s writings.
The Shakespearian play Macbeth starts with witches having a prophecy on the life of Macbeth: that he can not be killed by those born of woman. Ego arrived for Macbeth, he did not think past the construct of the sentence.
Macbeth, brazen as the day, insists he is invincible because of the witches prophecy. Macduff who was fighting Macbeth tells Macbeth that he was not born of woman, but that from his mothers womb ultimately ripped. Therefore Macduff felt he could kill Macbeth. Two egos?
Surely the witches of Macbeth and their prophecy are symbolism of what society states upon us all. It’s our burden. Our crap to carry.
I too was untimely ripped from my mothers womb. Caesarian born, my first Freudian trauma never involved a birth canal. The evolution of the English language I praise as in modern day language the term ‘caesarian’ is much more acceptable to ‘untimely ripped’.
I was born on the same day as the song Y.M.C.A. entered the British pop charts as it happens.
Where the stars aligned for me akin to the witches prophecy upon Macbeth?
My father was certainly not absent in my life and my mother anything but overbearing. Freud’s Oedipus complex has disturbed me all my life. And, dare I say it, many thousands of gay men and women persecuted and inflicted with perceived societal wrongs leading to mental anguish, physical violence and suicide from developed prejudice.
You can no more label my [homo] sexuality on my parents than you can on the Village People releasing the biggest gay anthem of all time on the day I was born.
But time moves on, society and cultures change, evolution through education allows acceptance for others.
Surely Queen Victoria’s line of ‘lie back and think of England’ was not only an oppression to women and their enjoyment by disregarding their erogenous enjoyment (as Dr Freud called it) as much as it was a social construct ruled and dominated by the Church (at the time) to control people to work in the factories of the industrial revolution and build the British Empire.
As Freud maintained ‘religion was once necessary to restrain man’s violent nature in the early stages of civilisation - in modern times, religion can be set aside in favour of reason and science’. Dr Freud, faith, be it in a celestial being, the universe or indeed humanity seems to be forgotten here. I believe there is a spiritual dimension to all of us that needs to be nurtured. It’s called our quiet moments.
In the lives of many, Freud made the Oedipus Complex, well rather, complex.
I was lambasted with this thought my teenage years, that my father was absent and my mother overbearing. This was not true, putting my childhood in context I was brought up in a rural farming family with much love in a small town God fearing Methodist society. As I started to develop as a spotty teenager who had a faith, Freud popped up gain, with his concept of ‘repression’, where I was attempting to direct my own desires and impulses towards pleasurable instincts by excluding them from my own consciousness and holding them in my unconscious. Surely this is what the Bible terms as 'sin' and other books too. It's telling a lie for the sake of fitting into society. I believe that psychoanalytic theory now understands that repression plays a major role in mental illness.
Freud, darling, why do you keep popping up in my life?
The defence mechanism this bread in me ensured what was unacceptable to my developing mind resulted in anxiety when it arose - a defence mechanism to prevent myself from reality.
Freud, your work on the unconscious mind, I praise you for.
I understand your point that repression of ones-self is damaging.
A past societal response to non-understanding like the love-less religious dogma that run governments around the world us to control their populations.
So what do I surmise from Dr Freud constantly popping up in my life.
So what’s all of this got to do with hand knitting?
Did Dr Freud knit?
But like a kitten with a ball of yarn, the outcomes of the work of Dr Freud can become a bit of a tangle!
It’s all about the construct of a knitting pattern: a manual for life, just like a psychoanalyst as a practising practitioner guiding the patient through the tangled ball of yarn that is their mind dealing with their own Freudian repression.
I know this all too well, first hand.
I honestly believed that people with depression needed a kick up the bum and get on with life.
Then the black dog that is depression arrived at my front door.
I did not see it coming.
But it arrived in the morning.
The day after my partner Thomas’ 50th birthday party.
I couldn’t move my leg down the bed.
I was not lazy, I just could not move.
I was diagnosed with a severe depressive episode.
What? Life loving me?
This did not make any sense.
Things had bottled up, one thing after another and then the final snap came, I had been betrayed…
It was too much to bear.
Fear, anxiety, a catatonic physical state, panic, black. Very black.
If you have not been through a mid-life crisis, take note, make it spectacular, because when you fall, it needs to be memorable.
Mine was, like me, fabulous. So much so some of it even played out on Prime Time TV.
Meanwhile, while I was breaking, I was also breaking the mould. I have never done things normally, and this was no different. I lost the sports car and opted for the older model in the form of Dr. Thomas: who may not look so good in a bikini, but does look great in a raglan sweater!
My head was the deepest black, I had no energy, the depth of sadness in my head was too much to bear.
I could not sleep.
All I could do every day to calm my anxiety was to stay in bed and watch Netflix.
I spent a year in bed, I could not get out, Thomas loved me through it and as a Dr himself, he was aware I was acutely ill.
I don’t remember why I started to knit, but I found 2 chopsticks and a piece of string, watched the YouTube to learn how to cast on. Before I knew it I had created a knitted something or other.
I showed it to Thomas, my German partner and he said ‘let’s get ze wool ja’.
I started to knit a jumper on 12mm needles in beige Alpaca - itchy thing.
The resulting product is somewhat shapeless, but will live as a trophy to my health for many years, albeit at the back of my wardrobe, currently adorned on myself today.
Why do moths never eat the ugly items?
I remember putting that misshapen article of clothing on my body, looking in the mirror and for the first time, in so long feeling proud of me again.
Albeit looking like a grown up Von-Trap child with knitted curtains for my new clothing. I thirsted for colour in so many ways. My first knitted garment allowed me to love myself again, I felt human. A deeply precious and intimate feeling.
I phoned my Mum one day saying my head was like a metal box, and the hammers inside the box won’t stop. Northern Irish Mum’s are great ladies, within a few hours Mum was in Peckham - the posh part.
We started to talk, I started to get better.
We went to John Lewis.
Mum knit the ribs, I did the stocking stitch, Dr Thomas put it in a boil wash.
I had to start again, both with my freelance business and that boil washed item.
Through all of this my mind was racing it would not stop. Cold sweats were a constant reality. The tender little flame that is my soul seemed to be oxidising in the naked air and it was deeply painful as it was kicked by Northern Irish homophobia. My little inner candle flame that was my soul, that was all I was and held dear was nearly blown out.
That one stitch, and then another allowed a sense of calm.
A creation growing that I had made, a reason for me to be proud, to find my circadian rhythm with my knitting needles.
Each stitch became a breath, each breath a feeling, each feeling acknowledged and understood.
The tablets were not a quick fix or happy pills, thoroughly boring pharmaceuticals that gave a base line, a middle c, the lattice to stand on. Side effects too. Dreams so vivid yet cathartic, metallic tastes, nausea, enlarged tummy.
Slowly, as the knitted items grew from my needles, my confidence was growing too. The tatters of my mind were being knitted back together. I was able to leave our home again, I was able to have a life. Like the snowdrops in February, I was starting to emerge again, a living functional creature.
I learnt to talk about my feelings. To realise that they were valid, they were mine and they needed to be understood.
A stitch in time, saved my mind.
I call it Knititation.
Now, I can see my life in colour again.
Thomas came home one evening and noticed I was able to have washed the laundry. For me, doing laundry was a miracle in itself!
I was not exactly better at this point, I was starting to regain a little bit of my normal function.
But I was getting better.
How did I get better?
Knitting. Hand Knitting.
Holding 2 knitting needles in-front of me gave me support, it allowed a barrier between myself and someone else - a safety net - to get better.
The anxiety had stopped when I was knitting. My head was clam.
I’m proud to say, I am better, and I’m off the tablets and I wake up at 6am every day and have a purpose again.
And I’m 8 months off the antidepressants and I have re-discovered natural mood again. One of the hardest achievements in my life.
As I knit and find my inner rhythm, thoughts pass through my head, I acknowledge them and am conscious of the feelings of the yarn and needles running through my fingers.
So I wrote a book full of jumpers in colour, that were not baggy, that fitted and that were fashionable and did not look like the front cover of an LP with Van Doonigan in a cardigan.
So I raised the money for publishing by Crowdfuning, got off the tablets, learnt to knit, found the winner of the best food photographer in the world 2 years running to photograph the book, found an Editor, got the sponsorship, located models, wrote the marketing plan, I knit on planes, tubes, trains, night clubs and on the N36 night bus, designed the jumpers and can now write knitting patterns. Not to mention opening my own publishing company, and finding distribution for my book and products.
I produced a book in colour, developed knitting accessories that are not feminine, jumpers that were fitted and not baggy, recipes to nibble at knitting club with games to play with yarn. The knitting industry has embraced my work and I’m now available on most high streets.
Knit and Nibble is a book of joy, intro by Dr Thomas Ernst about how knitting is a form of mindfulness - knititation as we call it, and the visuals are stunning.
The title of the most innovative book in the world at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards was bestowed upon my work.
I cried with tears full of colour for the first time in years.
So Knit and Nibble - well, it's a book and brand full of joy aimed at male knitters.
Why men? Well, there is a gap in the market.
A huge one.
My knitting group that I started in the Peckham Pelican a year ago has about 140 members, 50% male when we meet on alternate Tuesday nights. The status quo of knitting patterns and the different stitches is present in my group, but does the industry leave people behind? Pattern images are inherently heterosexual 2.4 children, Anglo-saxon when 1 in 4 school children according to the BBC are of Black and other ethnic origins.
It’s not easy for a man to walk into a yarn shop.
He’s confronted by everything he’s not.
Don’t get me wrong, the staff are great, the visuals, no.
Knit and Nibble is my come back. It’s gone global.
Every day I give my thanks.
The press have been so supportive to me, Sky News, articles in The Telegraph have called the book Purls of Wisdom, knitting magazines talk about the joy and colours of my designs and the book, Let’s Knit magazine have said “we cant get enough of James McIntosh”, Time Out London says “it will be wool worth it”.
My spiritual dimension is always giving thanks.
Surely mental hygiene should be as important to a human, especially in today’s 24/7 neon digital world. Mindful exercises, like my knititation are vital for good mental hygiene.
Let’s finish as Freud would.
Dr Freud, I would like to dedicate a knitting abbreviation to you.
In a knitting pattern PSSO mean’s Pass the Slipped Stitch Over, a term used for decreasing on a shoulder for example to create a clean and defined line within the knitted fabric.
For you Dr Freud, everyday life has lead to the development of PFSO - Pass the Freudian Slip Over.
Dr Freud, I praise you for your thoughts within your time, you did not experience life as we do now, the sexual liberation of the Swinging 60’s, the paradigm shift resulting from the contraceptive pill, and equality rights would have changed your text as you experienced it. You can not be judged for missing this. We have different issues to deal with now to what you did in your time. However, you set a framework that allowed thought and discussion using the tools you had at the time. Your work has never been out of medial texts some 70 years after your death, your ability to look at a construct and cleverly discuss it has lead to huge global progression.
Dr Freud, I salute you.
As for me now, my Life is good. Freud and I have reconciled our differences.
Dr Thomas has now learnt not to put knitting items into a boil wash.
My dreams, I can have them again, my hopes, are becoming reality.
I am James McIntosh and I knit and Nibble celebrating life’s patterns, recipes and games.