A story of pain told through humour

Ruth Borgfjord watches Feel Good.

When you’re not feeling well, try watching Feel Good, a rom-drama-comedy in six episodes created by the talented comedian Mae Martin, who also stars as the main character. It will make you laugh, it will make you say ‘aww’, and it will make you raise your eyebrows. Inspired by reality, the premise is a queer Canadian comedian called Mae, living in London and falling in love with a ‘straight girl’, while recovering from addiction (I use queer as an umbrella term for LGBTQ+). The show brings laughter out of honest life circumstances. It just may be what the doctor ordered.

If you’ve worked with LGBTQ+ clients, you may be familiar with the issues that come up in the show about sexuality and gender identity. If you’ve never worked with queer clients, I recommend this show as your basic education. From a psychodynamic perspective, the series deals with a number of key concepts.

The first of these is object relations – the theory of developing a psyche based on the relationship with significant others/primary caregivers. This differs from Freud’s drives and impulses theory. In Feel Good, we see the repetition of Mae’s early childhood relationship patterns with her mother (Lisa Kudrow). Melanie Klein (2002, p.173) says ‘[...] all the sufferings from later life are for the most part repetitions of these earlier ones, and every child in the first years of life goes through an immeasurable degree of suffering’. We learn that Mae was four weeks premature and that she had a cocaine addiction.

The series deals with transference – the process of repeating without remembering, whereby the present and potentially the future are a reliving of the past without working it through. It is mentioned several times that Mae has a repeated habit of becoming involved with straight women, chasing them and then breaking up with them.

Humour is an accepted and celebrated form of defence. It allows Mae to tell her story honestly without the responsibility of holding her pain and distress. Thus, she is not a burden to those who hear her stories. We see her mother unable to contain Mae’s pain whenever she brings up the past, making humour a more approachable way for Mae to open up. Denial is the form of defence for Mae’s girlfriend George (Charlotte Ritchie), who struggles with coming out to her friends and family, to the extent that she makes up a fake boyfriend.

Given our current circumstances due to COVID-19, in confined spaces we may observe our own repeated patterns come to life. Perhaps some of us can only handle the laughter right now. But maybe down the line we can open up about the loss we are experiencing in our way of life. 

- Reviewed by Ruth Borgfjord, a queer woman, an artist, and an art psychotherapist trainee at Goldsmiths College University of London, and founder of Queer Sisterhood Cluj, Transylvania.

Watch Feel Good on All4 now or on Netflix outside of the UK.

If you or someone you know struggles with addiction, please join a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in your area: https://ukna.org/meetings/search
The meetings are currently held online due to the pandemic.

Useful resources:
Klein, M. (2002). Love, Guilt and Reparation: And Other Works 1921-1945. Simon and Schuster.
Phillips, A. (2016). On “Remembering, Repeating and Working Through,” Again. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 52(3), 375-382.

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