Molly. Oh Molly!

When I look back I can clearly see we were headed this way. But once again, it has taken the shocking death of 14 years old Molly Russell, to call the big bad media companies to account. They claim to be helpful and in some ways they are but their algorithms aren’t.

A few weeks back I was researching base-ball caps for a piece of writing and now I can’t log on to the internet without someone trying to sell me one such cap. I feel like I am being hounded, sitting alone in my study. It’s all about unabashed, indiscriminate, aggressive marketing. “We’ll give you want we think you want and more”, they scream.

In the last week of January, Ian Russell shook the media world by naming and blaming Instagram directly for making a major contribution to the death of his lovely Molly, by her own hands, in November 2017. Even after she had passed, she was being sent inappropriate images and material in response to her previous search for ‘Depression’ and ‘suicide’. The heart-break was written all over him. The very next week, Instagram was hauled up by the Parliament and its CEO agreed to take responsibility for removing and monitoring harmful content. Google and Facebook are yet to follow suit.

As indicated by this data from the ONS, there has been a worrying rise in female suicides, at either end of the age spectrum. The rise has been consistent in young women, 10 to 29 years of age, since 2013.

Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 19.32.42

Last week, at the National Suicide Prevention Alliance Annual Conference, there was much discussion on the same subject. The minister for Suicide Prevention, Jackie Doyle-Price spoke briefly, trying to convince us that she would do everything she can to tackle the issue and we are watching. Like hawks.

 

Help? Me?

black-and-white-close-up-dark-167964

“Call for help” is the first step in Basic Life Support. At the hospital, I encourage Junior doctors to recognise early when a patient is too complex or too sick and ask for help at an early, rather than late stage.

It took six sessions of counselling to wake me up with a jolt to the fact that I needed to ask for help. Yes. I was a strong and independent woman. Yes. Very self-sufficient. Omnipotent, in my view. I offered help generously but hesitated to ask. Saagar was ill. I was looking after him the best I could while working full time. All our family was in India.  Saagar’s dad stepped in as much as he could. He worked full time too. We had no back-up. No support net-work. No community. We were muddling along till it dawned on me after 6 weekly Talking Therapy sessions of one hour each, that I could and should ask my family for help even though they were thousands of miles away.

I didn’t know it then, but it would seem I didn’t like asking for help. It made me feel weak, vulnerable and inadequate. Exposed. I don’t know why but it seemed like an admission of failure to manage my affairs. But now, Saagar was ill and we needed help.

On the night of the last session of therapy, I wrote an e-mail to all the adults on my side of the family, explaining our situation and finally, asking them for help.

One of my brothers responded. He applied for his UK Visa at once. A few days later he was told there weren’t enough blank pages in his Passport for the Visa to be stamped. He took the document back to the Passport office to get more blank pages added on. That took a few days. He then re-applied for his UK visa and finally got it a further few days later. By now 2 more weeks had passed.

In the mean time I arranged with one of my young friends, Jan to come to stay with us. Jan and his mum attended meditation lessons with me. Jan was a compassionate and enthusiastic young man who had recently lost his job and was looking for something meaningful to do. I offered him our guest room and invited him to stay with us, explaining the situation. He was excited about it. I asked Saagar how he felt about this temporary arrangement.

“It’s okay Mamma. I’ll wait for Uncle to come.”

I listened. I understood. I was tempted to push it. But I wanted to respect Saagar’s wishes. I didn’t want to take away the little control over his life that he had left.

A few days later, the visa arrived. Just in time for Saagar’s uncle to attend his funeral.

Moral of the story: Ask for help openly and EARLY.
Reminder: It takes a village …

Song: Lean on me:

https: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTVEIOOBD6Q

Needs, needs …

Alexander Maslow called himself a Humanistic Psychologist. He had a special interest in the relationship between the human mind and human potential. He is known by the model of human needs he proposed, Maslow’s Triangle.

450px-maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs.svg
Starting from below, the first 4 needs are classed as ‘Basic’ needs. They are essential to survival and yet, unmet for a large proportion of the world population. The order of needs is not meant to be strictly from the base to the tip of the pyramid. Many of them are of importance simultaneously. At different times, one can be more important than the other. Self-actualization is put forward as a ‘Being’ need, to connect with something beyond survival of the ‘ego’, to find self-fulfillment and help others find the same.

I read ‘morality’ as ‘authenticity’ – being aligned with my true values and self. For me it’s not about abiding by a religious doctrine or an external diktat.

When Saagar was alive, I spent most of my time in meeting our ‘basic’ needs, often sacrificing one for another. Moving away from friends and family, spending long hours at work, fighting stiff competition to move forward professionally, not making time for my hobbies, friends and relaxation, constantly chasing time, worrying about running a house-hold.

Since Saagar’s passing, I have had glimpses of ‘self-actualization’. I have been able to connect with myself and others authentically. I have a desire to know and understand the meaning of being human at a deeper level. My creativity has found expression. I have experienced transient moments of transcendence, which cannot be described in words. I have been able to appreciate beauty in flowers, leaves and poetry like never before. Retrospectively, I have been able to see that Saagar could not meet any of his needs except the most basic when he was severely depressed and that must have been crushingly painful for him.

I wish it didn’t take something so terrible, to make us see things clearly.

The Cats

IMG_6741

(Merry Christmas from Milkshake)

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the City Hospital was a circus. A different clown (read Consultant) was in-charge everyday. What was right on a Monday was completely wrong on a Tuesday. The same action would be pronounced as ‘perfect’ by one clown and ‘abhorrent’ by another. To make things better, they didn’t talk to each other. The flunkies (read junior doctors) were the in-betweeners that got lammed from both sides as their shifts crossed over time-territories. They were the pawns on the frontline that took over the running of the unit from one clown at the beginning of a shift and handed over to the other at the end. They were the ones dodging the arrows of conflict over phones, in hospital corridors and at handovers. They were the ones that stayed up all night working hard, only to be abused and criticised the next morning. They were the buckets into which bile was poured, the bile of bitterness that the clowns didn’t have the guts to express to each other.

In 2004, I was one of those flunkies. After about 8 months of this non-sense, I was done. I was loosing my sense of self, my confidence in making decisions and most importantly,  pride in my job. It was time to stop and take stock. After a nasty night shift, I was handing over the patients to the day team. I am sure at one point I heard the Consultant taking over suggest to me ‘you need your head examined’.  That did it for me. Bleary-eyed and broken, I couldn’t bear to go home only to come back to this toxic work environment yet again that night. I planted myself in Psychiatry Outpatient Department and demanded to be seen by someone. Dr Ingram was a handsome, young psychiatrist with kind eyes and a small beer belly, well couched in his grey suit. He understood. I was given 6 weeks of work-related-stress leave and started on Fluoxetine. I was also seen by an occupational therapist once every fortnight. She suggested getting a cat.

At the local Animal rescue home, we found an enchanting black and white, one year old feline. It was her eyes that got me – talking and smiling eyes. We were told it was a girl. We decided to call her Bella. We were advised to keep her strictly indoors for at least 6 weeks, till she got used to the smells in the house. She found her way to the strangest of places –  on top of kitchen cabinets and radiator covers, squeezed behind and underneath beds, chairs and sofas, inside shoes and boxes. The only place she didn’t like was her soft furry blanketed bed.

On our first trip to the vet for a basic check-up and vaccinations, we found out that the she-cat was in fact a he-cat. After much consultation, he was christened ‘Mr Bronx’, the old faithful. He soon became a source of great joy, comfort and hilarity for the family. We had him go crazy playing with balls of wool, soft toys with tiny in-built bells and laser beams. He was pure entertainment from a distance at the beginning but slowly he allowed us to stroke and cuddle him. Within a month we were having full-fledged conversations with him.

The Fluoxetine made me feel frozen. Hollow. No joy. No pain. No love. It was dehumanising and unbearable at times. It was proof that pills alone cannot make you happy. After 6 weeks, it was time to go back to work. I did. A cunning plan was put into place so that I didn’t spend too much time at the ICU. It worked.

9 years later, Saagar was home from University and I got a phone call from him at work. He said he’d found a cat on ‘Gumtree’ and he would love to get it. That evening we went over to a tiny flat in Sydenham occupied by a family of 4 – mum and 3 kids. On a window sill lounged another family of 4, a grey mother-cat with her three grey kittens, 6 weeks old. One of the malnourished kids was about 3. He handled the kittens like rags. He didn’t care if he lifted them by their ears or tails or bellies. He let them go from various heights above the floor, cornered and held them with a lot of force. He told us all about what the cats ate. We picked the cutest little kitten who resembled a mini-punk, got it properly accessorised and brought “Milkshake” home. He was Saagar’s baby that summer.

Not once did it occur to me that there might be a connection between the circumstances under which we got the first cat and the second.

Ref: https://www.cats.org.uk/news/purring-the-blues-away

Inventory of Loss

Just like old trinkets, losses sit about in our being for years, forming layers upon layers, rusting us on the inside. Most of the world walks around with a thin film of red rust of unresolved grief just under their skin. A long list of losses dressed up as something else hides behind this film.

When Russell was 6, he went for a basketball game with his dad one Saturday. He lost his little blue jacket there. His dad gave him a good hiding for that. For Russell, it meant loss of safety. Did anyone recognise this as a loss? Nope.

When Saagar moved from India to Northern Ireland, he didn’t know English very well. He was one of three coloured kids in his Primary school. Something as fundamental as his name was alien to all around him. One day he came home from school and asked, “Can we change my name to Alan or something?” For him, this move meant loss of a sense of place and a sense of self. Was it acknowledged as such? Nope.

When the Tsunami washed away thousands of villages on 2004, Saagar was stunned. Until then he had faith in God but after watching the devastation caused by it on TV, it was all over for him. He said, “If there was a God, He would not allow such a horrible  thing to happen.” It meant a profound loss of faith for him. Did we know how to deal with it? Nope.

When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was 42. It mainly affected the small joints in both my hands. I worried about my ability to work in the future. With correct diagnosis and medication, I was back to normal in a short time, but for a while I lost my confidence, my sense of security. Was it expressed and addressed? Nope.

Yes. We accumulate losses without knowing it and our inventories continue to add on more items when we’re not looking.

I am learning to look at and validate all my losses. I am learning to be complete with them.  As Christmas is approaching, I am aware that that empty chair at my dinner table will hurt. But I am grateful that Saagar once sat there. I am already grateful for all those who will be in their chairs that day. I am also determined to make them feel special and wonderful, loved and cherished, like I would Saagar, if he were here.

PS: In Jan/Feb 2019 I hope to start a series of 8 weekly Grief Recovery workshops, 2 hours each. Up to 9 participants can be accommodated. It will most likely be on Tuesday evenings in South London. If you think you would like to work with me and take small actions towards healing, please do let me know. Thank you.

How did I get here?

17John W James was a young man in America who had his heart broken by the death of his son in 1977. He found that there was no help available for his heart. He was mostly asked to process the pain through his brain. This did not work for him. His pain continued to worsen and invade other parts of his life, such as his marriage and his work. At one point his suffering and isolation was so great that he couldn’t bear to continue living. He was on the brink of ending his life when he asked himself, “How did I get here?”

He sat down and took a closer look at his life. He found many losses in his past that had been claiming parts of his soul like land-mines along the way. For example, friends lost in the Vietnam war.  He had never addressed or resolved any of his previous painful experiences and they had been layering up, one on top of the other, on top of him, to the point he was being smothered by them. He unpicked each of these layers one by one. He dealt with every one of them in a particular way. He found a method by which he could reach his heart and reduce his pain. Slowly, he started to feel much better. He shared this method with other grieving families and it helped them too. He called it “Grief Recovery Method”.

This afternoon I completed my Grief Recovery Method workshops and I can see why they have helped thousands of people across the globe over the last 30 years.

PS: E-book request form : https://www.griefrecoverymethod.co.uk/ebookrequestform/

Hope

The concert had just finished and the hall was semi-lit. A dance recital entitled ‘Hope’ had coaxed everyone’s feelings up from deep within to just under the surface, like fish in an aquarium hovering at the top for specks of food. The main supporter of the show was the Patel family who had recently lost one of its eminent members. He was survived by his young wife and three kids. The soft thuds of seats folding up, the hiss of people whispering in gentle tones and trudging in small steps towards the exit filled the warm air.

I approached the 17 years old Patel boy, one of the sons. He appeared shrunken. Contracted, like an empty plastic water bottle, after a flight.

“How’re you doing?”
‘Not bad. Thanks’ he stated, unconvinced, looking downwards and sideways.
“Did you enjoy that?”
‘Yes. T’was nice.’ Still expressionless.
“How’s mum doing?”
‘We went for a safari to Kenya. That was good’ he looked up a little.
“I am sorry for your loss. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself.”
‘Yes. Thanks’. Mortified.
“Can I give you a hug?”

It was like hugging a coat stand.

Resources:

1. Child Bereavement UK: https://childbereavementuk.org/for-families/support-for-bereaved-children/
2. Winston’s wish (Charity to help young ones cope with grief): https://www.winstonswish.org/
3. Cruse: https://www.cruse.org.uk/children/how-to-help