Changing the Conversation.

First versus second.

Medical versus human.

Symptoms versus experiences.

Problem-based versus Trauma-informed.

Here is an example of language, describing the same thing in two different ways.

First:

“I was 15 when I started to suffer with mental illness. I went to see a psychiatrist who told me that I had something called Schizophrenia. For a couple of years my symptoms got really bad and people were afraid I was going to hurt myself so I was hospitalised. They stabilised me on meds and shock treatments and sent me home. For a long time, I didn’t get sick again.

Later, as an adult, I started to get symptomatic again. I got pretty psychotic and once again got put in hospital. They told me there that I was really sick and should go on disability. For a long time, I was pretty sick but then started to be able to manage my symptoms.”

Second:

“I was 15 when I started feeling different than others and really alone. For a couple of years after that, I would do things in pretty extreme ways. They made sense to me based on what I was thinking and feeling but I guess it was scary for others who didn’t really understand what I was thinking and feeling. I got put in a hospital. There I really lost hope and beliefs about being a ‘regular’ person. They put me on a lot of medication that made me sleepy all the time. After I left, I threw out all the meds and put my intensity into music.

Years later, coming out of a difficult marriage I started to have similar kinds of experiences as the ones I had as a kid. I had really strong feelings and felt pretty separate from others. I got put back in the hospital again. I was told I had a major mental illness and that I should go on disability. Though I did that for a while, I realised that I was just going along with their beliefs rather than looking at how I’d come to think in certain ways. Little by little, I figured out what to do with my intensity and I’ve been really growing ever since.”

Each one of us is simply at a different place in our growth and development. Using language that is personal and descriptive of our experiences enables shared understanding. It forces us to think of ourselves and others more broadly as human beings, free of labels and assumptions.

Reference:

Intentional Peer Support: https://www.intentionalpeersupport.org/?v=79cba1185463

Bubble of one.

They said you can travel within the UK. I did. Took a few days off and invited myself to a friend’s place in Aberarth, Wales. Excitedly booked a ticket from London Euston to Aberystwyth via Birmingham and back.

I’ve never had so much space travelling from anywhere to anywhere, ever. It was like moving from one fake film set to another. A story where nothing happens. No one meets anyone. Nothing is exchanged. No conversations are overheard. Even my tickets were not checked. I was truly in a bubble of one. The announcements were made by invisible human voices. Welcome to … but there was no one there. No shoulders brushed. No smiles. No queues at the solitary coffee shop at Euston.

Finding a window seat was no problem as there were at least 30 to pick from. As my train sped out of London, land and sky were revealed. Every now and then I got a glimpse of little streams of water holding a string of multi-coloured narrow boats along their edges. The sun glistened the patchwork of fields. The horizon was a long horizontal line interrupted only by thickets and vertical carpets of green.

Townships appeared with colourful children’s play-areas crying out for children. Don’t know why I tried to log on to the Train Wi-Fi but they wanted me to agree to a multitude of things which was the perfect excuse to put the laptop away and simply enjoy the ride. Branches burgeoning with white, pink and yellowish-green life, embellished the pliable black skeletons of trees, dancing to the tune of spring. Spring, the upward thrust of sap through roots and trunks to the fulsome tips of cold branches.

Nowhere to buy a bottle of water at the normally chaotic Birmingham International Airport Station. No noise other than the oh-too-loud announcements. Toilets, the cleanest they’ve ever been, on and off the train. From one desolate platform to another, I changed to a country train with 2 carriages meandering through gentle hills and fields towards the sea, stopping at places I’d never heard of before – Y Trallwng, Drenewydd and so on. I felt my fists loosen to receive this new freshness.

The next 3 hours were a dream. Ewes tailed by their cute little lambs scattered on both sides of the rail track. Lamb ears sticking out of their heads at a jaunty angle and their tails wiggling with joy! Clear waters mirrored the dance of life all around. Green slopes rose and fell in a soft rhythm. And I was here. My eyes were dry and my heart open. I clearly witnessed the fresh air and bright sun work their magic.

A few years back I had believed the season would never change. It would forever be autumn. But it has changed. It really has.

Not before 12th April

Building up to today, hope of movement. Till this morning, half-fearing the radio might say – it’s been cancelled. After nearly 13 months of this regulation and that and then the other, bungled numbers coming from unreliable sources, u-turns based on dodgy science, I am not sure what is to be believed.

This morning I opened my eyes to snow descending like down-feathers, dancing and swirling outside my window. Wow! There is hope. A clean, fresh start.

As an anaesthetist, over the last few months I’ve been speaking with patients, re-assessing their fitness for the operations that they were supposed to have March 2020 onwards, which have not happened yet but will hopefully happen soon. Several of them have had to live with painful knees and hips and other uncomfortable conditions for at least a whole extra year, unable to move around and exercise. Many of my patient’s health has deteriorated over the last year. They have gained substantial weight, some are drinking much more than before. A few have decided not to have their operations as they are worried about visiting the hospital, leave alone be admitted, for fear of getting the virus.  

A few got Covid and have recovered fully while a small proportion have lingering issues. Others have discovered new health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and asthma. Some elderly patients have developed new ‘minor’ issues after having the vaccine, like loss of balance, making independent living impossible. So many have lost confidence.

The incessant repetition of “you may be next to die a terrible death alone soon” on TV and radio has filled the psyche of the populace with terror. The thorn of fear has made a home in so many chests. It’s easy to put it there but difficult to pull it out. How insiduously our greetings have changed from ‘Have fun!’ to ‘Stay safe’.

Monday, a good place to start afresh. May we find the courage to recover, open and experience life in all its fullness in the coming weeks and months.

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” -Helen Keller

Men like dahlias.

Without fail, he abandoned her the moment they entered the residence of the hosts of any drinks party they ever attended.

They had lived in the village for two years. Here everyone knew everyone. In the summer of 1976 Jane and Christian attended one such party. As soon as they got there, Christian was off, having a drink and a laugh with his friends. She could hear them raising a toast at the other corner of the large garden. Jane found herself standing near the hedge, admiring the flower beds and talking to her local GP, Dr Hamilton and the vicar. It was 7 pm and the garden was bursting with colours. “I do love these glorious dahlias” said Jane gazing down at the voluptuous crimson beauties. She looked up to find a shocked expression on the faces of both the men in her company. Had she said something awful? She worried.

The vicar looked at his feet, his left eyebrow still lifted in an arch. The doctor glanced sideways awkwardly, pretending he had heard nothing. ‘Only men like dahlias’ murmured the vicar. Jane turned red. There was so much she did not know. She quickly changed the topic to the nearby white roses, hoping they were safer. Uncontroversial.

The next day Jane had an appointment with Dr Hamilton. She said, “The Tamoxifen is terrible. I can’t fit into my shoes or get a full night’s sleep. Food makes me sick and I am impossible to be around. Don’t know how anyone puts up with me. My husband must be a saint.”

‘Yes. It can be quite de-feminizing” empathised Dr Hamilton.

“It was only a small tumour and they got all of it out. That was two and a half years ago.” Jane reminded him.

‘Okay. If the side effects are so bad for you, maybe we should stop it’ he thought aloud.

“That would be wonderful. And … it might make me stop liking dahlias.”

A Vision

By JR Leach

I had this vision back last spring,
When the land was ruled by corrupted kings,
And greed was fueled by hoarding things,
But things that one could touch.

The vision spoke of melted gold,
The value of the world resold,
“The price for life” is what we’re told,
By men who own too much.

As fear spread through a world; forlorn,
With threats of plague that ne’er were born,
Fresh chains were forged and willing-worn,
By those who feared the lie.

And though once joy had been assured,
Through weighing risk, and griefs endured,
Death could no longer be ignored,
For all souls fear to die.

This fear was stoked by those town criers,
Who peal the bells but start the fires,
And sing the songs their lord requires,
To whom they humbly thank.

Fresh tides of evil rise with haste,
As hands of Midas are replaced,
By hands whose touch turns all waste,
And paper sharp and blank.

“But rules are rules” the fearful sigh,
Content to see their forebears die,
No hand to hold, no last goodbye,
Just pixels, bright but cold.

“But rules are rules”, the state replies,
While deaf to all those muffled cries,
That sound from those with honest eyes,
And doubt the fear they’re sold.

And even children are not spared,
For misery is widely shared,
And dished by those who swore they cared,
But cared for guidelines more.

So mired and masked, the schools return,
Devoid of joy but forced to churn
Out abstract facts, for all must learn
That learning’s just a chore.

The vision ends when all is grey,
While shapeless, mouthless words relay,
The promise of a brighter day,
But no such day arrives.

A year drifts by, and so does youth,
The vision now a dismal truth,
But ‘truth’ is passé and uncouth,
While fiction blooms and thrives.

But even in this twilight hour,
imprisoned in our lonesome bower,
The words we speak retain their power,
And words can never die.

So speak your thoughts, and rise above
The barbs and briars of those who shove
The truth away, just think and love,
And you’ll escape the lie.

Things people say.

Dr Indu was broken inside out. She felt like a big black boulder and could barely hold her weight. After all these years of marching on alone and doing the ‘right’ things, this was her reward. Most of her friends had no clue what to say or do. After a few days it was clear that many of them could only stand by her for a week or 10 days max. This is when Indu remembered a passing acquaintance, Ruhi, a girl who wore long flouncy colourful skirts and big dangling ear-rings made of feathers and other dreamy things. She thought of her as a girl even though Ruhi had silvery grey hair and was seven years older than her.

Indu wanted to see Ruhi again. She didn’t know why but it had to be done. Indu posted her an invitation and as back-up, sent her a text with details.

The clear bright day was trying to cover-up the immensity of this death. Ruhi came in a flowing black dress with multiple strings of black wooden beads in various lengths cascading down, from her slender neck to her shapely waist. The ends of her long black sleeves opening-up like flowers to reveal her delicate hands. Not only did she have a pink lip-gloss on but also a serene smile. On this tearful day, she smiled on as if that was the most natural thing to do. No defiance or disrespect. A subtle involuntary smile, puzzling and misplaced.

She walked up to Indu and held both her hands in hers for a few frozen moments. She went on to open her arms and enclose Indu in them like a baby. “One day you’ll be grateful for this”, she whispered in her ear. By now Indu was used to hearing non-sense like “be brave”, “you’re so strong”, “such is life” and so on. She had learnt to ignore a lot. It took too much out of her to do anything more than that. “You have no idea what this is like” she thought to herself, feeling like a duplicate of herself amongst all these people. She drew back from Ruhi and looked into her dark brown eyes through her tearful ones. “Believe me. You will” Ruhi said softly.

Seven years have passed. Now Indu is as old as Ruhi was then.

And she remembers her horror at what Ruhi had whispered in her ear that day. The chains are falling off. Her vision is clearing. She notices more, within and without. She wants to live the truth. Be it. She knows it now. It’s all a ‘seeming’. All of this. It’s so clever. It fools us into believing it’s real. She has felt the presence of the divine in her broken heart. The blessings of a few fleeting golden moments of absolute grace have left her charmed with life and thirsty for more.

Indu and Ruhi meet up at the café that plays Bossa Nova jazz all day. They catch-up over large mugs of cappucino, sing and dance and take long walks together. They laugh and cry with abandon. Both wear pink lip-gloss and without knowing, they smile. Light as dust.

A missed opportunity.

Never have I had so much time and predictability. Days have been rolling at a soft rhythm. This whole drama started nearly a year ago. What have I done with the advantages I’ve had? What do I have to show for it?

Nothing.

People have started new businesses, done a whole lot of voluntary work, written books, got fit, learnt to knit and sew and cook and all that jazz. I am just the same as I was at the start. Still subconsciously judging me based on my productivity. Old habits, like patterns that repeat themselves on an unending roll of synthetic fabric in a psychedelic print. I must admit there is a strange kind of gratification in that. Self-flagellation is a modern virtue.

One lesson we can learn from a dog – it never tries to be a better dog. It is fully accepting of itself. It has no concept of ‘self-improvement’ or ‘achievement’. It’s free of the notions of ‘self’. You might want it to be a better dog but as far as that sweet creature is concerned, it is purely its unadulterated self.

The world was given an opportunity to unite and it managed to cut itself up into even smaller bits – the ones who wear masks everywhere and the ones who don’t, the ones who think that vaccine is God and the others who don’t, the ones who drive beyond 5 kilo-meters and the ones who won’t, the ones who use public transport and the ones who don’t, the ones that can’t wait for the lock-down to end and others who can’t bear the thought of it ending. One side trying desperately to convert the other. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. People went as far as snitching on their neighbours – all in the name of a greater good. Not really for themselves but for other people.

The list of criminal offences has more than doubled in this time while basic human rights have been trampled upon or willingly surrendered. Who would’ve thought that leaving one’s house more than once a day could be classed as a ‘criminal act’?

I suppose I can congratulate myself for staying out of prison for one whole year.

Felicitations dear World. You have just given birth to a baby religion.

It changes. And changes again.

Over and over I asked myself – Now what? Now what? What happens after a severance such as this? How long do one’s bones bleed? Do the tears ever finish? What does ‘recovery’ look like? Is it even possible? How does one keep placing one foot in front of the other? Where is the road? Where does it come from? Where does it go? How long and meandering is it? When does the screaming in my head stop? How long can I keep up the facade? Pretend to be sane? Is this what a new diagnosis of a terminal illness feels like? Is forgiveness possible? Self-forgiveness? Acceptance? Surrender? All these big words! Surrender what? To whom? Who am I now? What do I do?

No answers. Silence. The tilted earth keeps spinning around its imaginary axis. It keeps cradling me. The sun stays at the center of its orbit. My son stays at the center of my being. My breath keeps coming and going. I grow new eyes. My bones carry my weight even though they bleed. The road appears under my feet. It reveals itself one step at a time. Rumi and Khalil Gibran come and hold my hand. The screaming softens. The wall of bricks that was my body, loosens. I come to know the terror and the joy of being insane, catch glimpses of being free. Respect for those who went before and sadly others, who follow. I stop fighting with the big words and keep it simple. Watch. Observe. See. Open. Let the gash in my heart, allow the light in.

A recent talk for The Compassionate Friends, a charity dedicated to supporting bereaved families.

Less than 3

Si was flummoxed by the ‘<3’ sign appearing repeatedly in the chat box on a zoom call with friends. Sometimes all by itself, without context, without a before or after. It took him a while to realise what it was. I suppose you know already. Don’t you?

“Love thy neighbour as thyself” implies that respect for one’s own uniqueness and integrity is inseparable from the understanding of anothers. Yet, it is widely believed that it is virtuous to love others. But to offer that same love to yourself is somewhat indulgent. In fact, this misconception goes as far as to say that the degree to which I love myself, I do not love others. Self-love is commonly understood to be synonymous with selfishness or narcissism. The French theologian, John Calvin speaks of self-love as ‘a pest’. Self-love bad, hence, unselfishness good.

Selfishness and self-love are opposites. When selfish, one is incapable of loving others and incapable of loving oneself.  

Only recently have I come to know this to be the truth – I am deserving of my love. In fact, I cannot fully love and respect another, until I love and respect myself a hundred percent. I don’t need to buy expensive gifts for me to experience it. Sitting quietly with myself is an act of love. It does not need evidence. It is free of all obligatory burdens. It is freedom itself.

On this day, I hope you can be your own Valentine. Happy Valentine’s day! Today and every day.  

 “If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, but if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man. Thus, he is a great and righteous person, who, loving himself, loves all others equally.”  

Being a Rose

Scent as soft as

feathers touching

the skin on the tip

of my nose.

Subtle. Almost invisible.

Gentle. Like a fine drizzle.

Smell? No.

Fragrance. The colour of orangey-peach petals.

A rose is nothing but non-rose.

It is the cloud that sent rain.

The sun. The soil. The seed.

The gardener’s sweat.

A conspiracy of the cosmos.

The rose

Cannot be herself alone.

It must inter-be.

With molecules of minerals and

Little particles of me.

All this, I touch

when my fingers hold

the tender stem.

I touch reality.

The non-self-ness of the rose.

Seeing real close-

A rose no longer rose.

A river no longer river.

A mountain no longer mountain.