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: email@example.com]
Lawleys and Hendersons – 2 ordinary families till 1968.
Both lost their 9 year old boys around the same time, in the same hospital, under the care of the same parish. One young lad lost to cancer and the other to head injuries from a road traffic accident. The families were strangers once but got to know each other during their time at the hospital. One sent a bunch of flowers to the other and invited them for a cup of tea. They understood and comforted each other in ways no one else could. They shared the same scar. They both knew how it felt, what it meant. Together they started reaching out to more and more bereaved families and over the following years, their compassion enveloped the globe. They became ‘The Compassionate friends”.
They had a gift. They shared it and enabled others to do the same. A priceless gift that I now have. I used that gift this weekend and felt its power and grace. Never thought I would ever say this but I am blessed. Every broken bit of me.
‘The Gift’ by Joe Lawley.
I have a gift.
I did not want this gift, it meant suffering and pain.
The pain came because of love.
A love which had manifested itself in a child.
The child brought its love to me and asked for my love.
Sometimes I did not understand this.
Sometimes I did not appreciate it.
Sometimes I was too busy to listen quietly to this love.
But the love persisted; it was always there.
One day the child died.
But the love remained.
This time the love came in other forms.
This time there were memories; there was sadness and anguish.
And unbeleivable pain.
One day a stranger came and stood with me.
The stranger listened and occasionally spoke.
The stranger said “I understand”, and did.
You see the stranger had also been this way.
We talked and cried together.
The stranger touched me to comfort.
The stranger became my friend as no other had.
My friend said “I am always here”, and was.
One day I lifted my head.
I noticed another grieving, grey and drawn with pain.
I approached and spoke.
I touched and comforted.
I said, “I will walk with you”, and did.
One turn of the pedal after another, cycling along happily, cocooned in my own contentment, sliding into a meditative state by the repetitive action of the legs, almost zoned out, I was within a mile of home. The afternoon was warm and a caressing breeze was gracefully nullifying the warmth, making it dream-like. Out of the blue, a loud rude honk shattered my trance and sent a shock up my spine. What was the point? If there isn’t enough space for him/her to overtake me, it’s not my fault. What does he/she think he/she’s going to achieve by making a racket?
There was nowhere for him/her to go. He/she had to follow me. This was the perfect opportunity for me to do something I have never done before but wished I could – show him/her the finger! While keeping my attention on the bike ride, I put my right hand out at right angles and stuck a finger out. Oh! That was my thumb. Saying completely the opposite of what I was trying to say. Cancel. Delete. Try again. Out went my arm again and this time it was a finger but it was the index finger! Wrong again! Take it back. This was turning into a joke. I was obviously incapable of doing the simplest of jobs while cycling. I had to give it another try. Got it right this time. Yay! Success at last although I suppose by now, he/she is thoroughly confused – ‘well done’ followed by ‘one’ or ‘don’t you dare’ followed by ‘ I am annoyed with you’.
A few yards ahead, I stopped by the side of the road, letting him/her pass. On the next road, we were met with an almighty traffic jam. I spotted the silver Saab I had interacted with before. I merrily trundled past him on my bike, with a big smile on my face, humming a little tune to myself. There was plenty space for me. Only if honking could help him now.
(Moral of the story: Practical skills get better with practise. I need practise.)
“…the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents. Loneliness grows around them, like mould or fur, a prophylactic that inhibits contact, no matter how badly contact is desired. Loneliness is accretive, extending and perpetuating itself. Once it becomes impacted, it is by no means easy to dislodge.” – By Olivia Laing, The Lonely City.
In the summer of 1999 I moved from New Delhi to a little place called Antrim in Northern Ireland. I lived in a tiny room in the accommodation for junior doctors on hospital grounds. I didn’t know a soul there. Slowly I made a few friends at work. Unlike now, there were no mobile phones, whatsapp, skype, facetime or facebook then. Telephone calls costed a bomb. People were friendly but everyone was a stranger. Initially I didn’t get their sense of humour at all. I felt foolish. I longed to speak my own language with someone. Anyone. But there was no one who would understand.
One evening I went to buy some chocolates to a nearby petrol station. There were 2 cashiers but only one of them had a long queue of people waiting their turn. I didn’t understand why. I went up to the cashier without a queue and made my payment. I didn’t get the meaning of the looks on people’s faces. It didn’t help that I was the only coloured person for miles. From some face expressions it was obvious that they had never ever seen a coloured person outside of the television. I felt alone. Very alone.
Urban loneliness is a common phenomenon. Isolation causes inflammation. Inflammation can cause further isolation and depression. The cytokines released as a result suppress the immune system giving rise to more illness.
Frome is a historical town in Somerset. It is known as one of the best places to live in the UK. Dr Helen Kingston, a GP, kept encountering patients who seemed defeated by the medicalisation of their lives. They were treated like a cluster of symptoms rather than a human being with health problems. Staff at her practice were stressed and dejected by what she calls “silo working”.
With the help of the local council and Health connections Mendip, she launched a community initiative in 2013. It main intervention was to create a stronger community. They identified and filled gaps in communications and support in the community. They employed ‘health connectors’ and trained up volunteers to be ‘community connectors’. They helped people with handling debt or housing problems, sometimes joining choirs or lunch clubs or exercise groups or writing workshops or men’s sheds (where men make and mend things together). The aim was to break a familiar cycle of misery.
In the three years that followed, emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% across the whole of Somerset. In Frome they fell by 17%.
No other intervention, drug or procedure on record has reduced emergency admissions across a population.
In difficult times, it’s important to hold on to something sustaining, like a sparkling crystal in the darkness, like the sweetness of stroking a cat or a dog. Take every opportunity to make life easier, lighter.
Let a tragedy be only tragic and not absolute hell. There is a big gap between the two. Like the difference between someone lying on their death bed and someone lying on their death bed surrounded by their family yelling and screaming at each other. If we didn’t make worse the terrible things that there are, if we could just put up with the terrible things that exist, maybe we could make the world a better place.
The motivational speaker and Clinical Psychologist, Jordan B. Peterson speaks about his latest book – “12 rules for life. An antidote to chaos.” He says he wrote it for himself as much as for anyone else.
“You set an ideal and find that there is a long way to go. It is a constant readjustment. There is also something positive about that. It’s not that there isn’t such a thing as a good person. Our idea of what constitutes good isn’t right because a good person is one who is trying to get better. The real goodness is in the attempt to get better. It’s in the process, to use an old cliché.
The central figure of western culture is Christ. He is the dying and resurrecting hero. What does that mean psychologically? Well, it means that you learn things painfully. And when you learn something painfully, a part of you has to die. That’s the pain. When a dream is shattered for example. A huge part of you has to be stripped away and burnt. And so, life is a constant process of death and rebirth and to participate in that fully is to allow yourself to be redeemed by it. So, the good in you is that process of death and rebirth, voluntarily undertaken. You are not as good as you could be. So, you let that part of you die. If someone comes along and says, there’s some dead wood here. It needs to be burned off. You might think, well that’s still got a little bit of life. When that burns it’s gonna hurt. Yes. Well, no kidding. Maybe the thing that emerges in its place is something better and I think this is the secret of human beings. It’s what we’re like. Unlike any other creature, we can let our old selves die and let our new selves be born. That’s what we should do.”
When asked if he falls short anywhere in his book, he says,
“Until the entire world is redeemed, we all fall short.”
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.
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.)
A mother of a teenager in Molenbeek, a suburb of Brussels got this text message, “Congratulations,” it read. “Be proud of him. He is now a martyr. Be happy he died fighting the unbelievers.” Molenbeek is said to be the jihadist capital of Europe and has lost many of its young to radicalisation.
NATO bombs have been falling on migrant boats, night markets, residential buildings, motels, random vehicles, hospitals, wedding parties filled with innocent people like you and me, in the name of liberty and democracy, killing sons and daughters of many mothers.
Continuous shellings, massacres, occupations and sieges in places like Mosel, Raqqua, Aleppo, Ghouta and Gaza carry on for weeks, months, years and decades, claiming innumerable lives of children of mothers who mourn for the rest of their lives.
Some mothers have everything taken from them. They are unable to provide for the most basic needs of their children due to various reasons, one of them being the blockade to aid, such as the one in Yemen. Some have to exchange sexual favours for minimal aid. Some are forced to watch their kids starve. Some of the realities are unimaginable.
We all are on the same grid of heart-breaking, unconditional love. Today, on Mother’s day, I send my love to mothers all over the world. I salute their tenacity and commitment. I admire their strength. I hope for peace and wisdom for all. I honour their grace and grief. I pray for their healing. I stand with them, their pain and helplessness, their love and longing. Our empathy envelops this burning globe like a silk scarf.