Over the last few years some of you will have seen a viral video of a man singing along to Rhianna on the tube. If you’ve not seen it, all the better, have a watch (below) and as you do just have a little think about what’s going on. What are your first impressions of the singer and his audience?
The video was first recorded surreptitiously and posted on youtube in 2012, becoming a viral hit with over 2 million views. What was his audience thinking? For his fellow tube travellers we’ll have to entertain ourselves by interpreting their expressions. Youtube however, gives us a little more to go on…. some people found the video amusing:
Trying so hard not to bust out in uncontrollable laughter
…others admired his confidence.
Lol. Kudos to him, as funny as it is, I do love how ppl have such cofidence in themselves to do such things. As its nit in the norm to sing aloud on the subway/rail, whether you have a good voice or not.
….some gave their support:
Awesome! Keep on singing Alika. Let the stiff upper-lipped boring people jeer all they like. You are London.
….and sadly many others were just nasty or racist. Youtube’s comments section can be a dark place.
Yet, few if any of the comments really indicate any attempt to question what was going on in the man’s head (beyond those who accused him of showing off).
So what was going on? Well we don’t know exactly, but that man on the tube, Alika, has got together with Rethink (in a video) and the Independent (in an article) to tell us a little bit about what he was experiencing (Have a read and a watch, and perhaps compare your reaction to when you saw the first video). As he tells us in the Independent.
That year  a number of events in my personal life had taken their toll on my mental health. In just twelve months, my auntie died, my five year relationship crumbled, my savings were stolen, and two friends of mine were killed in violent attacks. It all started to overwhelm me, and I began to feel and behave differently.
I was going through depression, anxiety, manic episodes, self-harm, and voices and illusions in my head. But I kept it all to myself, and over time I became more withdrawn and erratic. Singing on the tube was a way to drown out my problems and escape. When you’re in the middle of a manic episode, you don’t think about what you look like or how you come across.
….A story very familiar to clinical psychologists working with bipolar disorder and psychosis. While some of my clients become ill without any clear stressors, they are in the minority. Most of the people I’ve seen have worked with have entered a manic phase following difficult life experiences. Alika’s story may seem extreme, yet it’s not at all uncommon among clients with mania and psychosis. We all have different breaking points, and these may depend on a mixture of our past experiences and our genetics. Cities like London do not help, feelings of alienation, racism, insecurity and violence are not uncommon, and are a particular problem for those from less privileged backgrounds (black Londoners are at particular risk of experiencing psychosis, for possible reasons that need another article).
But back to the comments…. the comments for Alika’s Rethink video are in stark contrast to those in the original video. There are not so many yet, but to give a flavour, here’s just one:
Brother am soo sorry when world star [youtube user] posted it people thought it was funny me being one of them if knew what you were going through i would have not even dare to laugh at that video.respect you for what you have done i too have anxiety when i am in public but its only getting better and better i will let my friends know about this soo they can apologize as well.:)
For me, this is a reminder that empathy is rarely automatic. We are generally quick to judge by what we see on the surface, but rarely take the time to imagine what lies under the surface, to ask ourselves what might be going on for that person opposite us on the bus or tube, or even over the breakfast table. We often jump to one conclusion and stick with it, that singing man is what? Selfish? Annoying? Super laid back and open? Cool? Attention seeking?
As Alika puts it (kindly).
I don’t want to make people feel bad if they laughed at the video of me singing on the Tube. I can see the funny side too, but I’d like to move on now. Viral videos have a life of their own and capturing someone’s behaviour for a few seconds in a day doesn’t ever show you the full picture.
Jumping to Conclusions (JTC) is something that is supposed to be particularly common in people with psychosis, yet in reality, we all do it, all the time. And just as it can be helpful for my clients to think of other explanations for their experiences, it can be useful for the rest of us too. On a bad day, we may tend to jump to negative conclusions, which just make that day worse. A classic example used in therapy is to imagine someone we know ignoring us when they walk past us on the street. What’s going on? On a bad day, well that person is clearly a total ass; on a good day, clearly they were preoccupied and did not see us.
Alika’s second video and article give us context, they give us a way of connecting to Alika. Suddenly, Alika is no longer a cartoon but a deeper, three-dimensional character. It’s no longer so easy to apply just one adjective. Now we are forced to consider Alika as a person with a past, present and future. It’s harder to be unkind, and easier to be kind. We have understanding , we have empathy.
Alika was kind and brave enough to give us that connection. The challenge is to make that connection more often and with less help.