Content note: references to suicide, mental health, grief
With so much pain and sorrow around this week, it's been challenging to focus on the positive. And that's okay, I get it. Sometimes we need to lean into the pain, the discomfort, acknowledge the triggers. Pulling ourselves out again can very often mean digging, clawing our way out of a very deep, 'long drop'. And sometimes, that's hard in and of itself, without the added madness of our newsfeeds and accompanying negative self chunter. (By ‘chunter’ I mean that relentless, noisey self chatter that can drown out the very sound of our beating hearts, with remarkable ease.)
On Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness Week supposedly at the forefront of my feed, I've read and viewed personal, deeply intimate stories of those who have survived, and continue to survive. People who have managed that climb, and reclaimed a life, albeit with the sometimes too tight a grip of those of who are doing it for those who surround them with love, rather than themselves, yet. There have also been horrific world events to contribute to the overwhelm too, of course. Palu in Indonesia with over 80,000 people displaced and without water, shelter and food, and the death toll predicted to be well over 5,000 from their tsunami and earthquake. And then, of course, the truly rage-worthy politics of sexual assault.
In my lifetime I've lost two very close people to suicide. They were truly significant people along my journey years before they chose to leave, and I loved them wholeheartedly, (still do, in fact). Although neither were surprises, their departures were still devastatingly unexpected, and of course, much too soon. I find myself suddenly tearful for no reason other than they’ve strayed back to my consciousness in some unavoidable way - years later for one of them, just over a year ago for the other. A smell, a song, a story, the view from a window. And the wave of sadness is always tinged with the unnameable shame, the 'what if' factor. What if I'd accepted the offer to go and see them in the preceding weeks / days? Would my being there have made any difference? It seems very arrogant to assume that, in reality. What if I'd called that day when I felt my intuition nudging me to do so, but shoved it to the weekend thinking I'd have more time then? Irony is not dead, just my soul sister. And in the end of course, I gratefully accepted the offer of travel, to say goodbye, to see her buried.
As a Kinesiologist, my understanding of the process of grief is as established in Ancient Chinese Medicine. It is a cycle which is beautifully engineered to bring the emotions to the surface. Initially there's a healthy wave of anger to motivate us 'to do the needful', for example. If this is noticed, acknowledged, leant towards and heartfelt, then it's unlikely to become resentment, or rage and ultimately depression. If suppressed, it can smoulder and fester until it manifests as physical and / or mental ill-health.
The culture of my birth was less accepting of the idea that death is an inordinate part of life. Children were rarely part of the ritual, it was seen as protecting them to keep them away. And so it is with suicide - it’s kept away, packaged up and popped on a shelf to ‘look at later’. Of course sometimes, later is too late.
In my limited experience, my ordinary life, I know at least three people close to me
who have looked through a death door for just a little bit longer than is healthy. Some have chosen to walk through, made up their minds to go, and then somehow, oh so miraculously retracted the decision, yanked themselves back for whatever reason, to try once more to reclaim that life, and make it better. They rarely talk about their experiences, there is still so much shame around the decisions they made.
I remember a time when the inertia of grief rooted me to the end of my sofa. Only able to operate on an apparently English autopilot to make endless cups of remarkably sweet tea, which remained lined up ominously cold and untouched. This was grief, even though the precious soul had decided to stay with us, had reached out, and we still had their warmth, laughter and tears in our intimate circle. Yet the fear and shame for those of us who missed the cues, was enough to throw a pall over our souls for years to come. So much of the emotion was unacknowledged, unexpressed and unprocessed for such a long time. We had no instructions for this kind of celebration. And of course the shame and stigma forbids the survivor to celebrate too loudly either, the fear of public record looming to reduce them to an unemployment statistic. They rarely talk about it.
So let’s talk love.
It’s true to say that the process of grief is a natural part of our lives, and that the languaging of that understanding is in our emotional intelligence. Whether it’s death, or simply change, we need to acknowledge the process is a healthy exposure of Love. Physically, the body is saying loud and clear, 'STOP!' Hunkering down or full prostration, movement is an essential part of the process. But sometimes it can be the smallest of moves. A gentle day of quiet. Or dancing. Or wrapped in a blanket cocoon with a cat, listening to the steady tones of Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter.
Perhaps if the grief we feel was more a part of our everyday process, it would be easier to heal from the overwhelm. In turn, it might be easier too for those scrambling for daylight to reach up, and for those bumbling along above the hole, to know just how to reach down.
If you are depressed, thinking suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your local crisis line.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. Please get in touch for more information, or a chat, I'd love to hear from you.