Lone tree in a desert.

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To up and move the household every couple of years.
To tear away from the warmth of neighbours and friends.
To bleed quietly inside.
To have no say in matters within and without.
It was normal.

To have a new set of chairs, beds, books and windows.
To be the ‘new girl’ in the new uniform in the new school, again.
To prove oneself again.
To pick up ‘the way we do things here’ again.
To keep on keeping the balance despite shearing winds.
It was normal.

To make a home out of a house.
To know there was only that much money.
To have aromatic homemade meals and smart hand-stitched clothes.
To extract as much joy and laughter as life allowed.
To create some more out of nothing.
To sometimes see grown-ups stressed.
To find blame and shame scattered around like unclaimed marbles.
To be expected to shine at all times.
It was normal.

To not know names of feelings.
To muddle along with them.
Mostly hide them in cotton balls of confusion.
To have no voice except silence.
To shed tears in dark corners.
To feel like a lone tree in a desert.
It was normal.

Some survived. Some didn’t.

Looking up – a true story.

At the age of 51, he was finally consumed by the very thing he loved to consume. He died peacefully in his sleep. Pat, his wife was sad but knew it was inevitable. She carried on.

9 months later her son Kevin went on a Summer camp. He was 15. The camp site had been shut all winter. 2 days before the start date, the camp site had been checked by officials and declared safe. The lads arrived with great memories of the previous year and masses of energy and excitement. They started with a race. With a big smile on his face, Mark flew to the finish line ahead of everyone else and was instantly charred.

Pat’s family wanted to take care of her. They moved her from her family home in Surrey, to a house closer to her brother’s, in Essex.  Pat went quiet. She silently and diligently pulled the shafts of her hair out from their roots one by one till she created white little clearings on her scalp. She scratched those clearings with such vigour that they turned into raw, red, weeping craters. She would empty the kettle before plugging it into the mains. She wore her clothes back to front, inside-out. She stood by the window for hours, waiting. She drove down the motorway in the opposite direction. Her family couldn’t help her. They thought she needed to be moved to an Institution for the insane.

A doctor in the Isle of Mann was well-known for his abilities in this field. Pat’s sister-in-law asked him if he would make an exception and help Pat even though she did not live on the Isle. He kindly agreed. He saw her. He unpicked her heart. He unwrapped the wounds in it. It was an excruciating process. She felt he was cruel, forcing her into the darkness of her soul with a torch, untangling the tight knots in her mind, wading through whirlpools of turbulence within.

After 5 weeks he invited her to live in his family home. He encouraged her to walk down the street. The first few times he went with her. Thereafter she walked alone, with her eyes fixated on her shoes. He suggested she try looking up and tell him what she saw. “Blossoms on trees, the church spire, white fluffy clouds, birds, light…”

By the time the hair-dresser had finished with her, she was ready to go home.

(If you or anyone you care for needs support after loosing a child to suicide or addiction: The Compassionate Friends : Supportive weekend retreat for bereaved parents: 6-8th July 2018: https://www.tcf.org.uk/content/events/91-supportive-weekend-retreat-for-parents-bereaved-by-suicide-addiction-or-substance-use/)

 

 

Inheritance of fear

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
– William Falkner. Requiem for a Nun.

The echoes of past traumas get subconsciously played out by us in our everyday lives. Sigmund Freud called it ‘repetition compulsion’ – an attempt of the unconscious mind to replay the unresolved so that we can ‘get it right’. This mechanism drives its way through generations. Jung also noted that whatever is too difficult to process does not fade away. It gets stored in our unconscious and finds expression in other ways. He says,” When an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.”

Here’s an example: Jake was 19. He hadn’t slept a full night’s sleep in more than a year. He had developed dark circles around his eyes and a blank stare in them. He looked at least 10 years older. He had been a star student and a great athlete but the insomnia had left him lifeless. This thing had no explanation and none of his doctors or psychologists or naturopaths could figure it out.

It had started with Jake waking up shivering one night at 3.30 am, frightened to death. No amount of woollen clothing warmed him up.  Soon, insomnia became a daily ordeal. Despite knowing that his fear was irrational, Jake was helpless and could not relax. The ‘freezing’ feeling associated with the first episode was quite peculiar.

On exploration of Jake’s family history, this story came out: His mum’s brother, Uncle Colin,  whom he had never met had frozen to death at the age of 19. He was checking power lines in a storm in the Northwest of Canada. He struggled to hang on but eventually fell face down in a blizzard, lost consciousness and died of hypothermia. The family never spoke his name again.

Now, thirty years later, Jake was unable to slip into sleep at the same age as his Uncle. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jake, falling asleep must have felt the same. Once Jake could see this link, he was able to free himself of it with the help of healing techniques taught by Dr Mark Wolynn, a neuroscientist with an expertise in breaking inherited family patterns.  His book “It didn’t start with you”, describes some of these practical tools.

Scientists are now able to identify bio-markers as evidence of traumas passed down from one generation to the next. Studies on Holocaust survivors and their children have revolutionised the understanding and treatment of PTSD all over the world. Be it fear, guilt, low self-esteem or anxiety, the roots of these issues may reside in the traumas of our parents, grand-parents and even great-grandparents.

 

Rascal Moon – A short story

His substantial shoulders supported a shapely head of midnight black hair – a Number 1 on the sides and a Number 4 on top. When he was born his grandmother had made him a small blue cotton pillow stuffed with black mustard seeds, for his head to assume that gorgeous shape. His skin was the colour of almonds. His wide creaseless forehead came down to a pair of perfectly symmetrical arched black brows underneath which two deep brown wells belied his 20 years. They were a cocktail of ancient wisdom of an old soul, dark torment of a lunatic and pure white innocence of a toddler. Nose, as if borrowed from the Buddha. A lazy stubble, almost deliberate. Smile, bright and generous as a Moroccan sky, giving him wings.  A shy dent in the middle of his chin. His man-child voice, lightly raspy yet gentle, had a penchant for accents. His favourite was Vietnamese. A peculiar whiff of teenage-testosterone tinged perspiration plus Lenor floated around him.

Despite his age and size, he delighted in the physicality of affection. He would douse his head in coconut oil to encourage Cleo, the family dog to lick it all off. She loved the taste of it. They rolled and tumbled on the floor like kids immersed in a game of ‘dog and head’. His ability to connect with others, be it man or beast was superhuman. In all his solid self-assuredness, all he wanted was to belong.

His drum kit was his Mecca. His passion for ‘rock’ percussion anchored him to the Earth. Strangely, this softie’s songs were – Catatonic, Heartless, Chimaira, Smoke and Mirrors, A Semblance of Life, Bleed, The Blackening. The dinner table often shook rhythmically as he sat playing imaginary drums with his fingers on his thighs underneath, carrying a faraway look in his eyes. If he wasn’t creating rhythms on the bonnet of a car, a table top, a random plate, a serving tray, a window sill or a Djembe, he was inviting them to flow into his brain through his ears and the world disappeared.

The rascal Moon turned green. Its beat was better. It thrusted its powerful yet silent, surreptitious rhythm on him. It got him like a mongoose gets a snake. His consciousness started to expand and contract with the pulse of the lunar cycle. As the tide rose, his beautiful head exploded. As it ebbed, he shrunk into nothingness. He couldn’t belong to anyone or anything. Not his shadow or his drums, his friends or his Mum, his beating heart or the air in his lungs. He couldn’t belong to his smile. He took refuge in the ritual of neatly rolling tobacco, blowing smoke out of his Velux windows. There was nothing anyone could do. All his kin watched the pendulum swing with impeccable timing.

The wretched Moon forced acknowledgment. On the brightest night that autumn, the young man typed his last message on Facebook: “Bigass mooooooon. Innit?”

                                                  ___  ___  ___

(Middle English lunatik, from Anglo-French or Late Latin; Anglo-French lunatic, from Late Latin lunaticus, from Latin luna; from the belief that mental stability fluctuated with the phases of the moon)

 

Project Eighty-four and more

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84 life-size statues of men were seen standing at the edge of tall buildings in central London in late March representing the same number of men lost to suicide every week in the UK – a hard hitting visual project aiming to bring this tragic loss out into the open from behind closed doors.

Common threads emerged from articles published in April:

“Students more likely to kill themselves” in the Times: Researchers from a Hong Kong University analysed the ONS figures and found that the number of university students in Britain increased by 5 per cent between 2012 and 2016. The total number of suicides among students increased by 32 per cent, from 139 to 183 deaths. A think tank said that a law banning universities from contacting the friends and family of students who are struggling should be revisited.

The number of first year university students reporting mental health problems in UK Universities has risen five fold in 10 years. A combination of increasing awareness of mental health issues, a lowering of the taboo previously attached to mental health services, mounting debts, homesickness, loneliness and a greater sense of anxiety about the future may be some of the reasons for it. Some vice-chancellors still think that mental well being is not the business of universities and it’s just about developing the mind. But developing minds means nothing unless students settle down well in their new environment and be ready to learn.

According to recent ONS statistics on loneliness, people between 16-24 are at the epicentre of the loneliness epidemic in the UK. More so than the elderly. Women were found to be lonelier than men. Other variables were renting a home rather than owning one, being single or widowed, having poor health and feeling disconnected from the local community.

In an article entitled “Doctors knew my son was suicidal. I should have been told before he died” in the Guardian, I raise this question yet again: Is confidentiality more important than helping someone at risk to stay alive? Is it correct for a father to be informed by doctors after the death of his son,”Now that he is dead I can tell you that this was not his first attempt”?

Is it?

 

A vacuum in the NHS.

When Saagar was ill, he filled out an online form and referred himself to IAPTs – Improving Access to Psychological Therapies. This programme  began in 2008 and has transformed treatment of adult anxiety disorders and depression in England. Over 900,000 people now access IAPT services each year. I have used this service in the past and found it useful. I suggested to him to fill out the form a second time and he did. They usually call back within a day or two. He didn’t hear back from them.

I recently found out that IAPTs does not look after suicidal people. I would like to know what they do when they read a self-referral form of this nature.

There is a vacuum in the NHS. There is little face to face support for those who feel life is no longer worth living. Why do most people with physical illnesses ask for help? Possibly because they trust they will receive appropriate help from the system. Why is it that many people with mental anguish don’t approach the medical services for help? Probably due to lack of trust.

The Listening Place works towards filling that vacuum. A few days ago I visited their premises, a short walk from Pimlico station, in the heart of London. This airy, green, warm and welcoming place felt ideal for anyone in need of care, support and understanding. Here, individuals can speak openly about their feelings without being judged. They receive on-going support from trained volunteers over a number of weeks as deemed appropriate. The volunteers help relieve emotional pain and stress and offer opportunities to consider alternatives to suicide. Anyone over 18 can be referred to them by themselves, other charities, NHS as well as health and social care organisations. They try to give continuity by facilitating you to speak with someone who knows you from before. They charge nothing and keep your information confidential. It is remarkable that they are open 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week.

Phone: +44 2039067676; Email: referrals@listeningplace.org.uk

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Sarah Anderson, who was once director at the largest call centre for the Samaritans, set up The Listening Place in 2016 and the service has since helped hundreds of individuals with its unique approach to care. During our chat, Sarah’s passion and dedication to the cause comes through, loud and clear.

The world needs more people who give a damn about other people.

(PS: Through the grapevine I hear the future funding of IAPTs is in jeopardy. The vacuum grows.)

 

 

 

Old people’s radio station

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During his holidays, Saagar and his friends would be subjected to Woman’s hour on BBC Radio 4 second hand, as their mothers listened. They would later have amusing/interesting discussions about breast feeding, female education and employment challenges. This station was pre-set on the car-radio and at home. It was designated as the ‘old people’s’ radio-station by him. Invariably, ‘Gardener’s question time’ would come on while we were in the car together, travelling over the weekend. It was quaint by its sheer irrelevance to us as we could barely keep our 4 nameless indoor plants alive.  Our urban pre-occupations meant we didn’t have a gardening vocabulary.

‘Just a minute’ was our all-time favourite – a panel of funny people asked to speak for one whole minute on a given topic without repetition, hesitation or deviation. The seemingly innocent topics often held great potential for hilarity, for example, billiards, the best thing about cats, how I spread a little happiness, keeping a straight face, my love of the absurd, garages and such. The correct and incorrect challenges posed by the panellists generated tremendous amount of laughter. Our attempts at giving each other topics resulted in great amusement.

On Thursday evening I was asked if I’d like to be a guest on Woman’s hour to talk about Saagar. It was unbelievable. It made me smile and cry at the same time. What a paradox! Of course I’d love to be on Woman’s hour. Under these circumstances? Meeting Jenni Murray was an honour. She was down to earth and professional, looking just as I imagined,  in her trademark glasses sitting just above the tip of her nose.I told her she had my dream job. She said Joan Baez had been in the studio the day before, sitting at the same chair as me. How cool! Oops! Saagar prohibited me from saying ‘cool’ as he thought it sounded all wrong coming from me. I wonder how he would feel about this interview if he knew. Maybe he does.

Despite making notes and preparing as well as I could, I was a bit flummoxed by some of the questions. I didn’t say everything I wanted to. I hope there will be other opportunities. This conversation must grow until everyone is a part of it in a meaningful and constructive way. In a way that saves lives.

A recording of the interview with brilliant and committed Mr Ged Flynn, the CEO of PAPYRUS and I: