A traveling ‘Fellow’ am I.

Somewhere in the middle of last year, a friend, Angela Samata ( of ‘Life after Suicide’ fame) recommended I look up Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. I did. They had a catchy strap line – “Travel to learn – return to inspire”. I checked out their application form. Form-filling is a formidable process but this one wasn’t too bad. I touched base with a couple of people from Australia and the USA who had stayed in my memory from various conferences. I asked them if they would have me visit their organisations, observe their work with the aim of learning and exchanging ideas. They were happy. I filled out the form. Got shortlisted and invited for an interview.

While preparing for the interview I knew I’d be asked to say something about Churchill. I researched and found some relevant facts. He’d coined the term ‘black dog’ to describe depression. That was clever. Also, he had something in common with me. He had survived the loss of a child.

This February I was awarded a traveling Fellowship by WCMT to go to USA and Australia for 3 weeks each to bring back ideas on preventing suicides and supporting families looking after someone with a mental illness. Ideas we can implement in our communities. It was an honour but also quite daunting. I have never done anything like this before. But here I am with 10 days to go, before I leave for the first leg of my travels to Concord in New Hampshire which is home to National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI. I have put my name down for their community walk on Sunday, the 6th of October aimed at stamping out stigma. I reckon that’s the best way to get to know people and get involved. Also, autumn in New Hampshire is meant to be spectacular. Deb and Elaine from NAMI have been very welcoming and I feel their warmth in their e-mails.

Yes. I am excited. With minor trepidation in my heart. And Saagar. Away from home, from Milkshake and Si for 27 days. Haven’t done that in a very long time. But it’s time and I am ready.

[PS: We’ve reached 82% of our fund-raising goal. I am deeply touched by the generosity of all the 151 backers and am grateful to everyone’s positive vibes. Thank you! To find the campaign link, search ‘1000 days’ and ‘indiegogo’]

Just numbers.

“Don’t read the comments” he said. On Tuesday, the 3rd of September 2019, the latest statistics on suicide in the UK were published by the ONS. The figures were posted in articles in the Guardian and elsewhere on the internet including Zerohedge, an alternative news website. Si forwarded me a link to one of these articles with the above warning. Don’t read the comments.

Some of the highlights from the data collected in 2018 were:

‘… the latest rate is significantly higher than that in 2017.’

‘Males aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate …

‘…rates among the under 25s have generally increased in recent years, particularly 10 to 24-year-old females where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level …’

I was advised and forewarned. Yet, I read the comments. What a way to start a relaxing Sunday! Should you read them, be prepared to be revolted, disgusted and saddened. My eyes were opened wider to the fact that this is just a laughing matter for some. Here are a few of the comments:

  • With Deagel.com predicting a 77% reduction in the UK population by 2025 due to economic implosion (nothing to do with Brexit), the suicide count hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface yet.
  • 17 in 100.000 is hardly anyting. NO NEWS here.
  • Spinsters shall inherit the earth
  • Britain needs to get that female suicide rate up to match the male suicide rate.
  • Happens when a central bank, in the name of 2% inflationary targets, actually produces 10% inflation and lies about it……. Working a job that pays 10% less every year, while the cost of living rises 10%, can induce suicidal thoughts when your wife and children are going without and starving……….
  • Globalist politicians: Oh look, there’s another white boy killing himself. Charlie, we need another order of immigrants. How many does it take to replace a White guy?
  • That’s what happens when you neglect your own citizenry in favour of immigrants. Brits feel like worthless peices of garbage and off themselfs, thanks government!
  • Here’s hoping they’re all “remainers”.

This is our world. These are our people. What can we do? We can share our stories and experiences. We can speak nice and loud, sing songs and poems, write blogs, books and articles, make films of love and belonging.

Many thanks for helping us reach 64% of our target for the film, 1000 days. The love and generosity of many readers of this blog, families of those who couldn’t bear to carry on living, friends and friends of friends has made this possible. Please contribute what you can and help us complete this film to connect everyone with the reality of a suicide.

(Donate on: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/1000-days–3#/ )

Convenient myths.

On a few occasions, after I’ve shared the story of Saagar’s brief illness and sudden death in public, one or two individuals, often men, who’ve possibly been through their own difficulties, have said that there was nothing I or anyone could have done to stop him. I know they mean well and speak from experience. I appreciate them reaching out to me.

For a few microseconds, on rare occasions, I have told myself that may be it’s true that Saagar’s death was not preventable. I have felt my shoulders relax, my tummy unknot and my mind quieten.

Life would be so much easier if I could believe/ accept/ give in to the concept that no matter what, Saagar’s death was inevitable. That the planets were misaligned and his demons got the better of him. That this was his destiny and it was ‘written’ in the balance sheet of his karma. Life would be easy if I could be complete with the fact that many people with depression/ Bipolar/ other mental illnesses will die young. Sometimes within 10 weeks of their diagnosis. What if I changed my outlook so I could have peace?

What if 3 decades ago everyone accepted that people who got AIDS would be dead within a few months or years. And then nothing more was done about it. That’s just the way it was and that’s how it would stay. Would we reach the stage where we are today, where thousands of individuals lead near normal lives for decades on regular medication, where HIV is not passed on from a carrier to another if the former’s viral load is sufficiently low.

Today, in the UK, cancer care is excellent and cancer research is huge. Anyone who gets diagnosed with cancer can be sure to get prompt and high quality specialist care for as long as needed. So much so that if a child is diagnosed with cancer, the parents automatically get assigned a therapist. We have come a long way.

On the other hand, if a child or an adolescent gets a mental illness, the patient can barely get the attention they need. Never mind the parents. It can hardly be a co-incidence that all the bereaved parents I meet are certain that more could’ve been done to help their child. Not all of them are deluded. Or are they?

Here’s Robert and Linda’s story. They sadly lost their talented young son Richard Wade. They too believe his death was preventable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FofR47rM1BQ

The more we ‘accept’ that these young deaths are inevitable (as the myth goes) the more we keep quiet, the less likely it is that things will change. Accepting might be the wiser thing to do. It might be better for our mind but it may also contribute to future deaths. The easy road may be the wrong road.

We’ve reached 41% of the funds we need to complete the film, 1000 days. Please help us release this film so we can bust some of the myths that surround suicide and bring this subject into society’s consciousness.

Click on: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/1000-days

A big fat THANKS to all of you for being a constant source of strength for me.

A tiny shift

58 months. Nearly 5 years.

And still, the first thoughts in the morning that rush into me to invade and occupy my conscious mind are those of Saagar. Like multiple grey moths stuck on the dark walls of my room, waiting. Then hurtling into my head the moment the light in there is turned on. Bringing in the darkness with them.

Everyday. Still. Sure as the morning, the sunrise. The thoughts. The moths. The darkness.

A mantra I created for myself, for distraction, salvation: “Thank you for this day. Thank you for Si, my family and friends. Thank you for Saagar.”

Often times it works. Sometimes its impotent. Useless.

I need to find a way to get out of bed without a dagger being struck in my throat even before I’ve opened my eyes. I speak to some learned people and they tell me to make a slight shift. They say that everyone comes into this world to experience X amount of happiness and Y amount of sorrow. So, when I think of Saagar, I should think not just of the suffering but also the love and joy in his life. I shall do this tomorrow morning. The moment my sleep is over. I will.

Tonight I share this link with you. It is the link to the promotional pages for the short film I mentioned the last time. It will be called “1000 days”. It hopes to cause a tiny shift in those who might watch it. Collectively, they all might bring about multiple small shifts towards greater connectedness in our world. The aims of the film are to:
1. Educate people that many suicides are preventable.
2. Empower everyone to ask for and offer help, hope and understanding.
3. Enable all of us to feel less alone.

https://igg.me/at/1000days

Your support is invaluable. Thank you for being here. Your contribution might save a life. Good night. xxx

Me and Thee

Ron and Jeanette

The first time I saw Jeanette, she was acting in a play called ‘Hearing Things’ being staged at South London and Maudsley (SLaM) Hospital, where Saagar received (inadequate) treatment. The play was inspired by events and conversations from real ward rounds of patients with serious mental illnesses. It was written by the playwright often described by critics as the ‘English Chekhov’- Philip Osment, well known for giving a voice to those at the margins of society.

The play highlighted harsh facts through a story sensitively told. Just three actors  illuminated the wide swathes of blurred lines between sanity and insanity, between the healer and the ill, between strength and fragility. I learnt a lot from it. It was a powerful blast that left me thinking about my roles as an ordinary member of society, a doctor, a mother, a patient. It gave me an insight into how and why the system does and does not work. I thought it gave me a little peek into Saagar’s mind.  It certainly made me feel utterly close to him in an unearthly compassionate way.

A few weeks later I arranged to meet with Jeanette. I trusted her even before I knew her. She listened. We talked for a long time. She read the blog. I suggested a documentary. I spoke with some of Saagar’s friends and they wanted to participate. So was Si. We all had something to say. Ron and Jeanette filmed it last year.  

This year we aim to complete it and release it. We have a name – ‘1000 days’. We have found a suitable and brilliant editor. We need to find some platforms to showcase it and we will. We are working on a crowd-funding campaign which will be launched within the next 10 days. The intention is to make this world a kinder and more understanding place. Watch this space.

Many thanks in advance.

Feathers etc.

10 weeks back I was surprised to find an all-day course in ‘Mindful Self-Compassion’ for Health Professionals advertised on the Trust intranet. It sounded great and it was for free. Wow! We are recognising the pressures on health care professionals and moving slowly but surely in the right direction. To organise a course like this and make it available to all staff at no cost is nothing less than super-fantastic.

I enrolled instantly and waited patiently for the day to arrive. The day arrived.  I entered the room to find all these items scattered neatly around the room: a bowl of smooth tactile pebbles in purple, maroon, white and yellow, little bottles of lavender and vanilla extracts, fantastical eye-catching postcards, maracas and manjiras, a white rosary in a tiny wooden box, sketch pads with charcoal tree sticks, a bunch of sea shells, sprigs of fresh rosemary and mint, a dried corn on the cob, a few white and brown feathers, a spongy red ball and a spiky yellow plastic one, a tiny hand-crank music box and an hour-glass with pink sand. These things were for us to appreciate, touch, feel, smell and listen to.

Two gentle young women led the day taking great care of everyone in the room and in complete harmony with each other. We started with a ‘soft landing’ – becoming aware of our feet on the floor, bum on chair, our breath and our finger tips. They called these short snatches of peace, the ‘green moments’. We were encouraged to create/access these green moments to transition from seeing one patient to the next or from work to home mode and vice versa.

The word ‘discernment’ was brought into my awareness. While the dictionary meaning of it is “the ability to judge well”, we were encouraged to scan our thoughts and ‘notice what’s not helpful’. It was a useful concept. It helped me locate stuff that was unnecessarily cluttering up my mind and blocking light from entering this sacred space.

I remembered that as a teenager I had a big scrap book filled with my collection of feathers of all kinds, my favourite being the peacock feather. Where did that dreamy girl with 2 pig-tails go?

For a while I could hold the little girl in me lovingly in my arms and marvel at her innocence and beauty, appreciate her child-like sense of wonder and creativity. This sweet girl is me. Perfect and complete in every way. All she needed was to be seen. By me.

Caring with compassion for you and me.

No shame. Just love.

Last week I met Matt. A young man, calmly determined to share his story and open up a rainbow that would envelop the world and knit it closer together. A story of a glorious love, a damning shame and a tragic unnecessary death.

Matt and Naz met in Birmingham in the year 2000 and instantly fell in love. Matt Ogston and Dr Nazim Mahmood. Both men. Men in love. They tried having a relationship in that city but knew that if they wanted to live like normal people doing normal things, they’d have to move away. So, they did. Over the next 13 years they built and lived a fulfilled and happy life together in London. All this time they managed to hide their gayness from Naz’s family as it was guaranteed to create unhappiness.

One weekend Naz needed to go back to Birmingham for a family event. The question of his sexuality came up and he spoke the truth. As expected, his family reacted badly. He was told that he was living in ‘sin’ and his ‘condition’ was treatable. I cannot imagine how he must have felt. Deeply humiliated I guess. That day he must have known that now, he could never be the man he was born to be. His love for his fiancé would always be seen as sin by others he deeply loved.

He returned to London. To Matt. Two days later he ended his life.

In his utter devastation, Matt found the determination to do what he could, to stop religion from getting in the way of love. He set up the Naz and Matt Foundation.

“Our mission is to never let religion, any religion, come in the way of the unconditional love between parents and their children.”