As a kid, my favourite biscuits were shortbread and digestives.
However the Biscuit Factory was the nickname given to the wing of a UK mental institution in the novel ‘Where my Heart Used to Beat’, by Sebastian Faulks. The time is the 1960s, when the NHS still has wiggle room to experiment clinically, before rigor mortis and the Private Finance Initiative set into its practices and processes.
The narrator and his colleagues decide to strip away previously used categorisations and contexts – such as schizophrenia and Freudian analysis – in favour of relating to the ‘patients’ as humans telling their own truths as best they can. By sitting under tables with ‘mad’ men and women, and accepting the authenticity of the voices besieging them, some successes are recorded in restoring wider functions of sanity.
There is far more to the book, but the theme of overwhelming empathy encapsulated in the Biscuit Factory struck a chord. It reminded me of the psychologist Carl Rogers, whose credo of healing others was based around an approach of unconditional acceptance, positive regard and comprehensive listening.
For me, tuning into the wavelengths of friends and strangers is a personal skill. But it is rooted in some deep issues of my own around trust and shame, and comes at a price of a lop-sidedness in too many relationships. It has become too easy to provide others with a licence to talk, without insisting on reciprocation. Its inevitable corollary is to cut down my own bandwidth for self-expression, which has tended to find its natural default outlet through the written word.
Trust, shame and other themes will be explored in my own online Biscuit Factory. There is still healing work to do, by openly acknowledging and sharing my many frailties and legacy vulnerabilities. That will be mixed up with humorous asides and positive snapshots of my loves and passions.
Think of it as me wearing my filthiest underpants outside my best trousers.
Chocolate finger, anyone?