you is kind. you is smart. you is important.

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My laptop claims to have at least 8 films on it but for some strange reason, on a train from Birmingham to London, it agreed to play just one, called, ‘The Help’. It’s about the writing of a book compiling the stories of African American maids working in white households in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s. A book about an open ugly secret. About the courage of a few to start talking about it as a mark of protest. About the collective impact of small actions in bringing about big changes.

Yesterday was World Mental Health day and the UK became the first country in the world to announce a minister for Suicide Prevention. The day before yesterday, I learnt that Health Education England are very keen to put measures in place to prevent suicides within medical practitioners. Having been a part of the Suicide Prevention Community for the last 4 years, the one profession that is most conspicuous by its absence is Psychiatrists.

At 2 different meetings, I happened to meet 2 different Consultant Psychiatrists. On hearing Saagar’s story, one of them said he was very sorry but ‘this has been happening for 30 years’. I went blank. I just looked at him. I wonder what the public’s reaction would be if a surgeon would publicly admit that his surgical team has been making the same errors, that have been costing people their lives for 30 years. Yes. These are systemic errors. They are difficult to tackle. But, even today, youngsters like Saagar are dying because of lack of leadership within the specialty of Psychiatry, like they have been for the past 30 years.

The other, extremely prominent and respected Consultant Psychiatrist completely rubbished Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation, without having tried any of them. He said that all these interventions have side effects. He believed that a Psychiatrist is only meant to attend to the most extreme cases. Their role comes into play only after these 5 have been called upon – parents, schools, GPs, CAMHS and Talking therapies. I am sure he knows that many youngsters die while on the waiting list, without ever getting to see a proper Psychiatrist, once. I am also sure he knows the side effects of psychiatric medications that are offered generously to all and sundry by non-psychiatrists. Lastly, I am sure he also knows how unsupported the GPs feel when faced with patients who are severely mentally unwell due to slow and inefficient response from the secondary services. And, I am sure it’s all down to poor funding. The same excuse that we’ve had for decades gone by and will have for decades to come. How about some imaginative leadership?

As parents, let’s start by saying to our kids in words and actions –
‘You is kind. You is smart. You is important.’
To me, I say – ‘I is kind. I is smart. I is important.’
You could too.

Empanadas

He sits on a bench in Borough market with one of his friends who gets up and goes to get a drink. My heart takes a giant leap. Si is with me. He calls out his name and he beams his trademark squinty smile of recognition at him. He stands up. They shake hands like old mates. My eyes fixate on his face like those of a mad woman. His eye-lashes are not as thick as before. Everything else is the same. I recognise his off-green t-shirt that he lived in. I can’t hold back. My fingertips explore his shoulders without his permission. He doesn’t seem to notice. He’s definitely real. I can touch him. He raises his left arm to rearrange his hair the way he does. He pinches the front of his t-shirt between his right thumb and index finger like he does. Either he can’t see me or he’s letting me do my thing. He’s talking to Si.

“The guys in grey suits wrote to us in first year at Uni. All the students on the Arabic course got the invitation.”
‘You didn’t say anything.’
‘No. They told us not to. They offered us jobs.’
“What kind?”
‘Exciting. After the second year at Uni I thought I’d take it up.’
“And?”
‘It was fun but then … 4 years was enough.’
“So, is this for good?”
‘Yup. For now.’
“Good to see you man.”
‘Yeah. And you. Great to be back. Argentinian Empanadas. I remember those.’
I am still invisible to him. We used to buy empanadas together. Beef ones for him and Spinach and ricotta for me. My finger tips are still confirming reality. He has been working out. I can tell. I want to check his tattoo but that would be too bold. I want to look for the scars on his left forearm but my eyes cling to his thick black brow, his slightly dry lips, his careless stubble. Their thirst cannot be quenched. My ears clasp his voice, his breath. Every word, a harmony. He is here. His words are real. He’s been hiding all this while, working with some kind of a Secret Service. He looks like a British Indian James Bond. But he still hasn’t noticed me and it’s ok.

The tension in my arms lessens as more and more confirmatory signals feed into my brain. My heart is doing somersaults like he did when he was 6. My eyes are so wide, they can take the whole world in.

Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting. Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra. Ting-ta-ring-ting-ting.

Stab. Bang. Kick. Punch. Screeeeeeeeam!!!

No more thorns

The bridge rumbles, shakes and shudders
as trains thunder over it.
I sit under the bridge and everything around me
rumbles, shakes and shudders.
The verticals, horizontals and things in between
judder
Outside and inside of me
I live under this bridge. It threatens to snap and bury me in rubble
Some trains are overloaded.
They crawl on top of my chest.
Crushing me to pulp.
Others come galloping,
Turning me to fine flying dust.
Almost non-existent
Yet, here.
Feeling. Breathing.

Thousands of us huddle under this bridge.
Wondering why our love wasn’t enough
Why no one said anything
Why it keeps happening at a maddening pace
Why we were blind
Why we didn’t know what to do
Why the Earth keeps spinning
Why the breath keeps oscillating
Why the heart keeps drumming.
Why?

4 years ago, it was all happening in September.
He didn’t know he was so close to the end.
I didn’t know I was so close to his end.
Now, I know.
Everyone’s talking.
Was I deaf or is it much too late?

Kingdom of Us: Lucy Cohen presents a film about the life of a family affected by suicide https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/08/the-kingdom-of-us-review-netflix-teenagers-lucy-cohen

Horizon: Stopping male suicide by Dr Xand Van Tulleken on BBC2 on 22nd August 2018
https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bgv82g/horizon-2018-6-stopping-male-suicide

House of Commons, 5th September 2018: Transcript of a debate by Helen Jones, making a case for changing the standard of proof from ‘criminal’ to ‘civil’ for deaths by suicides
https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-09-05/debates/B8A2C436-64BE-4694-B4AA-F6535E49E31E/SuicideCoroners%E2%80%99Courts

NICE Guidelines: September 2018: Preventing Suicide in community and custodial settings.
https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/NG105

Pink Dinosaur

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She was 29. She had suffered with severe anxiety and depression since the age of 12. She was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and other things.    “I have never been happy – I don’t know the concept of happiness”, said she. Aurelia had spent a couple of years in a Psychiatric unit and a couple in a prison. She wanted to be freed from her body. Doctors in the Netherlands agreed to assist her to end her life. On the 26th of Jan 2018, she drank the poisonous mix of drugs (supplied by medics), cosy in her bed, in the presence of her pals and 2 doctors, clutching her soft, pink, toy dinosaur and peacefully slipped away.

This is the beginning of the death of hope. I have full sympathy with Aurelia’s suffering. The question is:
Had every other option been fully explored and found useless?
Had she read Buddhist teachings or volunteered to help conserve a local park or anything else?
Had she tried travelling to a different country with a different vibe?
Had she tried Homeopathy, Ayurveda or Chinese traditional medicine?
Reflexology, Aromatherapy or Kinesiology? Music, theatre or art therapy?

The range of options explored are limited by the limitations of the imagination of ‘the system’. A purely medical approach is useless without attention to social factors. Many social issues cannot be fixed but they can be understood and imaginative alternatives offered.

Her death wish was most likely a symptom of her illness. No?
Does this euthanasia make it easier for many others to give up?
Can we be a 100% sure that she had considered all her options?
Had she received appropriate bereavement support when her mother had passed away?

My deepest condolences to her friends and her Dad.
RIP Aurelia. I am sorry you couldn’t find a reason to live.

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Youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySVKF5_6gfM

 

A letter

Darling Saagar,

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-August and I am missing you. To say ‘I miss you’ is like saying ‘I am alive’. I think of all the evenings and weekends I spent at work while you were home. At that time, I thought I had no choice but now I know I did. I thought wrong. I think of the time we were walking through an ‘Ideal Home Show’ and you wanted to buy a brown leather bean-bag for your room and I said no. I thought you should have more floor space. Again, I thought wrong. These thoughts are sets of darts that fly in uninvited at supersonic speed and leave parallel rows of bleeding abrasions behind.

This summer has been exceptionally glorious but Nature at large is annoyed with us I think. There have been flash-floods, droughts and heat-waves in most unlikely of places, forest-fires and famines, violent volcanoes and earth-quakes. I wonder what you would’ve made of the burning Middle-east, Mr Trump, Brexit and North Korea. If only Electric cars could solve all the problems of the world.

They say the longest journey is from the head to the heart. I made that journey in one second – the second I knew you were gone. You won’t believe how many real friends and real conversations I now enjoy. I also read a lot more. I wonder what you think of my new reading glasses – metallic purple frame. Yes. The time has come. After carrying them all over the world in a red polka-dotted Cath Kidson case for more than a year, I have finally started wearing them.

While clearing up a corner of the study I found a set of drum-sticks that belong to you. They looked well used. ‘REGAL TIP USA But Naked’. 🙂 I held them in my hands like you would’ve. You remember how we competed in the game of ‘chop sticks’? One shrimp, one string of spaghetti, one edamame bean, one grain of rice, half an edamame bean and so on… you won every time. You rascal!

Yesterday, the ‘Old people’s’ radio said that ‘Friends’ was the most streamed TV programme on-line. I remember how our opinions about Rachel clashed as though she was the most important person in our lives. FYI, I’ve still not changed my mind about her.

West Norwood High street has many more cafés now – Thai, French, Brazilian and Portuguese. I feel a stronger sense of community is developing here. The new improved South London Theatre is putting up some great shows and a new Cinema is being built where the Library used to be. The streets and cafés miss you too my darling.

I attach a picture of your beloved drum-sticks for you. I could write, not just a letter but a whole book for you but, another time. I hope wherever you are, you’re having fun.

I love you.

A big huge soppy bear hug,
Mamma

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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 any old 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.

Green Tara

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Once again, I found myself in Swansea. The meeting was planned weeks in advance and I had travelled 4 hours to be there. I, a practising doctor, once again, seeking light in the realm of the unexplained. Why was I there? Because I wanted to write a book and I wanted to know what Saagar thought. Does that make sense? Like hell it does. That’s why I had trudged all the way there and would be changing trains for the rest of the day to get back home.

One whole wall in the waiting room was teaming with thank-you cards, mostly from women who believed they had had babies as a result of Acupuncture or other therapies received at the centre. It was a modest space with a tired fawn carpet and upright wooden chairs with plastic, foam maroon coverings. Like all waiting-room-chairs all over the country.

Her big smile snatched my gaze away from the wall and welcomed me into her space. She guided me up the stairs into the same consultation room where we had met more than a year ago. The familiar potted palm, the large window and the same arrangement of the 2 comfy sofas by the fire-place, facing each other with a small wooden table placed in between. Déjà vu, all over again.

I sat facing her and the window. She sat facing me and the door. We started with a brief catch-up and then she connected with Saagar. She said he’s happy. He’s growing his hair and following the cricket. She thinks she can hear him speak French. Is he saying something about Guy’s hospital? He says he enjoyed his time and friendships at Dulwich. He mentioned a particularly close ‘black’ friend. I am sure he means the one coming home to lunch tomorrow. He says he loved the large window by his bed with the great view of the London cityscape.

He felt there was a place for him at the wedding. It was fun, especially the bit by the river in the early morning hours. He must have meant the photo-shoot of Si and I in our normal clothes. It shows us in our ‘natural habitat’. The camera loved the early morning sun. So, we complied.  ‘Natural’ and ‘photos’ don’t belong in the same sentence. We tried our damnedest best, seeking inspiration from Hollywood and Bollywood combined, getting confused and dramatic and giving rise to some cracking moments. He was there.

He offers me a Green Tara through her. A Buddhist manifestation of active compassion, Tara is the saviouress, the one who reaches out and responds freely to all who suffer. She is fearless and boundless. He wants me to have a jade statue of Tara. He knows my heart and mind. We walk in the same light.

She says the book will happen. A book of beauty and joy that was him. Of his continued presence. Of hope.

( A 20 minute video of an awareness raising presentation for trainee anaesthetists at a national conference in Glasgow from earlier this month: Being Human)

[E-mail address for Moya O’Dwyer, the medium: moyairishmagix@yahoo.com]