Tuesday 12 August 2014

Depression Kills But It Is Not Here To Kill Us

‘In a dark time, the eye begins to see’ Theodore Roethke

The real lives of those we know, need and love dwell far beyond their faces that are visible to the naked eye. For many, their authentic selves and truth are hidden behind a layer of masks, masks wisely and unconsciously created by each individual in response to the environments and outer worlds they inhabit. Each person is the sole inhabitant and silent witness to their own inner worlds and the dream that dwells within the heart of each human being is to be able to remove their masks and live and express their own truths and authentic self.

The poet David Whyte says "The soul would much rather fail at it's own life than to succeed at someone else's". As long as we continue to create the environments where this dream cannot become a reality, we will continue to have people choosing to end their own lives. 
In Ireland, we need to draw aside the veils of illusion and see what the reality conceals. Officially, nearly 800 people on the island of Ireland ended their lives through suicide last year. From speaking with nearly every agency and type of person involved in this area over the last 12 months, all would unofficially estimate the figure to be much higher and well beyond a thousand. 
Based on the fact that men are more like to end their life through suicide, the focus for the most part over the last couple of years has been on the emotional distress that men are enduring. Research shows that the rate of parasuicide, where someone tries to end their life but doesn't succeed, is three to one in favour of females. Over 60,000 people are admitted to A&E departments each year with self harming injuries and the majority of these are females, thus shattering the myth that our females are more effective at dealing with or experiencing less emotional distress than their male counterparts.

What of the countless thousands that are living lives of silent misery and quiet desperation. Maya Angelou, the American poet, once wrote "There is no greater agony than the bearing of an untold story within you". Many of these people live an unnecessary daily existence of pain and suffering because of their fear of sharing their ‘untold story’ of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self harming and so on. Their fear arises from the ever present dark and omnipresent stigma that surrounds emotional wellbeing issues.
The renowned British medical journal 'The Lancet' recently published research which highlighted the fact that 'depression is the leading cause of dis-ability in Ireland'. The World Health Organisation says that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability for human beings worldwide and the number one reason for absenteeism in the workplace. Our country, Government, educational bodies, medical institutions, sporting organisations, workplaces and communities need to draw back the veils of illusion and see what the reality conceals.
A person doesn’t ever want to end their life but they do want to end the horrific pain and suffering that permeates every part of their being when experiencing depression. The ability to give and receive love at this time is quenched from the strength of the blackness within, the consequences of your actions if you decide to end your pain permanently and the effect it will have on those around doesn't enter your thoughts as they can’t weave their way through the heavy clouds that seem to have an endless depth of darkness that engulf and surround your mind.
Suicide is a permanent ending of pain and an eternal architect of pain. It is pure and utter carnage that reverberates throughout individuals, families and communities that lose a loved one through suicide. If a picture could be taken to capture the devastation that saturates the inner worlds of these people, it might resemble the images of chaos and destruction in the aftermath of a bomb explosion in a busy street. It's been my experience through meeting many left bereft by suicide that the human psyche can come to terms, in time, with the death of a loved one through natural causes but it has immense difficulty finding peace with the loss of a loved one through suicide.
I heard a psychologist recently say "we must declare a war on depression". I'm thankful he was never my therapist and I would have deep concern for the people that are clients of his. The weapon we most need in the exploration of depression is understanding. The Polish physicist Marie Curie once said "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less". 
And now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less. We owe it to the lives and memory of Robin Williams, of Galway hurler Niall Donohue, of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee. We owe it to the thousands more we have lost to suicide and continue to lose each day (3000 a day worldwide) whose graves are scattered across our nation, young, old and in between. We owe it to those people that are never, ever spoken about, the many who fail to succeed in ending their lives but whose bodies and brains are permanently damaged for the remainder of their and their families lives.

We owe it to the bereaved who ask daily 'why?' and may never get an answer, we owe it to the silent sufferers, we owe it to the people who consistently and courageously seek support and search for meaning and hope but are still engulfed in darkness, we owe it to our Mothers and Fathers, sons and daughters, Grandmothers and Grandfathers, friends and neighbours, we owe it to our children yet unborn to deepen our understanding of depression, to deepen our understanding of suicide but more than anything, to deepen our understanding of ourselves.
A human existence is the most complex story of all, the endless flow of thoughts in our mind, the hidden world of the unconscious, our dreams, fantasies and imagination. We need to encourage the befriending of this beautiful complexity. As a species, we have explored the deepest and highest parts of our Earth, we have travelled vast distances to other planets but we have disastrously neglected our inner worlds.

We need to go on a deeper voyage within, exploring the inner vastness and caverns of our minds, hearts and souls. The task of true knowing is slow and at times gruelling but must be pursued and encouraged by individuals and subsequently society. It's the road less travelled but the one that will make all the difference and perhaps the answers we seek to our deepest questions are contained within the silent depths of these new frontiers and unchartered territories.
There are many hidden agendas in the area of mental health and emotional wellbeing that are operating to deepen our insecurities and fears and persuade us to be hopeless in the face of depression.

Depression kills but it is my belief that it is not here to kill us. The journey to wellness requires time and patience and is full of difficult but rich and liberating learning. There is no one path, each person has to begin and create their own but the giving of support (not advice unless requested), compassion and unconditional love on this journey from others is as important as the gift of your next breath. It's impossible to walk that path on your own. No one can walk another person's path for them but they can certainly walk it with them. We can and we need to walk it with each other.

 I have encountered a myriad of situations, both in my own and through meeting and sharing that journey with many, many others, to say that there is no such thing as a hopeless person or hopeless situation.
We have this incredible capacity as human beings to endure, adapt and grow through the challenges that life throws at us and to be able to find meaning in our wrenching pain and suffering. Finding the courage to begin the journey, discovering meaning in your depression and coaxing harmony and clarity from the chaos of your inner worlds is only one aspect of the journey. For some, the bigger challenge can arrive when that meaning reveals itself for it will ask you to emerge in to your outer worlds that we all share and be true and real to yourself and to others in living out your own unique, human existence.   
 I don't believe in the word 'recovery' when I think of depression or my journey through what was a decade of internal horror and suffering as a teenager and young man with panic attacks, depression, self harming and the most damaging of all, believing my worth and value as a human being was determined by the opinions of others and my achievements or failures in school or on the sports field.

The word recovery suggests you return to a previous state of wellness or being. For me, that is not the true purpose of depression. Depression forced me down a path, a path I initially feared, which led me to witnessing the powerful freedom that flourishes within when I drew aside my own veils of illusion and began to see the world and myself anew from the solidity and sanctuary of my own real self, where my worth and value were determined through the authentic lens of my own eyes and where I was able to dissolve the old cages that had confined me in an unlived life and become the sculptor and not the sculpted of my life.

Individuals, communities, Governments and countries all have finite resources when it comes to money to create professional support services for people with their physical health and emotional wellbeing challenges. History and the present day has taught us that emotional wellbeing has and will remain for a long time to come a vastly underfunded, under researched and under resourced area of the health service. To blame others though is to remove accountability and the power we each possess as individuals to create real and lasting change in this aspect of life. 

The world of suicide is complex and there may appear to be no easy solutions. One thing is certain though and perhaps even simple, the fundamental need of each person to be loved and to be able to love unconditionally. As human beings, we have infinite reservoirs when it comes to kindness, compassion and love.

The Sufi poet Hafiz wrote 2,500 years ago
'Jump to your feet,
 Wave your fists,
 Threaten and warn the world.
 That your heart can no longer live,
 Without real and authentic love'.

Maybe it's as simple as that...

In the words of Auden
 "Either we love or we die"  






























Sunday 3 August 2014

'Coming Home' To The Truth Of Your Real Self

When Isaac Newton was trying to discover the mystery of white light, one can only imagine the wonder and excitement he experienced when he placed a prism in it’s path that revealed the vast spectrum of colours contained within. Previously thought of as being an entity of it’s own, he discovered the essence of light was the amalgamation of several different colours.

We don’t need a prism to recreate this amazing experience today, nature takes care of it in her own mystical way. Each rainbow is a glimpse into the realm of the invisible world that surrounds us as daylight hits a water droplet to display the secret parquet of colours that dwell within light. Gazing at a rainbow captures the heart and fires the imagination as we amaze at its beauty and wonder and elusiveness.

White light is a powerful symbol within the human species, especially for those whom are members of the Catholic Church. People whom have near death experiences often recall seeing a ‘white light’. Jesus is often represented in paintings and other images with his body luminous from a white light emanating from within. One of the central moments in Christian teachings is the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor where he begins to shine with white light and become radiant upon the mountain. The teachings describe this as the pivotal point at which human nature meets God.   

White light doesn’t show favour to any one spectrum of colour over the other. It doesn’t discriminate between the richness of its red or the vibrancy of its yellow. It values and appreciates equally all the different constituents contained within its  structure for it knows that without any one of these, it ceases to exist in its purest form and can’t fulfil its duty to bring to life and to view all the majesty and splendour that pertains in this planet we call Earth.

Is there a powerful message contained within the purity of white light and the magnificence of a rainbow for us as human beings. Are they enlightening and informing us that unless we as a species begin to treat equally and without discrimination the vast spectrum of human beings that exist within our planet, beings with different personalities and characteristics to their existence, people of diverse religious faiths, people of no faith, people with different coloured skin, people whose relationships involve members of the opposite sex, same sex or no sex, that unless we can begin to fully understand and cherish our differences and uniqueness as individuals and celebrate and embrace the myriad of common desires that we all share, primary among them to love and be loved,  that until that day arrives, then we can never as a species reach the pivotal point at which human nature and human beings can merge their independent spectrums of light and stand out in their own true radiance, dwelling within that flowing beauty of pure white light and achieve fully our boundless potential as spiritual beings.

Whether Jesus Christ was the son of God or just an incredibly evolved human being is a discussion for another day but his constant message throughout his life was ‘to love your neighbour, as yourself’. Sadly, in the church, they conveniently forgot to teach and affirm the last part of his original message, to love ourselves. It was wise of them to do that because the person that is in love with themselves, not in a narcissistic way where they believe the world revolves around them but in a way that they come in to an awareness of their own innate worth and immense value as a human being, independent of anything they may have achieved or not achieved in their life and the opinions and judgements of others, will not allow themselves to be controlled or dictated to by any religion or organisation.   

There is nothing more powerful or with a greater capacity for freedom in this world than the human self and  this self always wants to be free to live its own life and express all of its vast expansiveness, it’s emotional self, social self, intellectual self, physical self and sexual self to name but a few.

For those people whose sexual expression encompasses the loving of a member of the same gender, it can be a difficult and challenging journey before you arrive at a point where you can find joy in your sexuality and fully embrace and live this aspect of your life.

Depression forced me on a pilgrimage of exploration through the deep valleys, high mountains and forests of the unknown of my interior life, a journey that continues to this day and will until my last breadth is taken. I’ve come to appreciate and befriend the beautiful complexity of my inner worlds and realise that the journey and navigating of life is a path through many forests of the unknown but that hidden within the silent depths of these sacred places are many of the answers I seek to the deeper questions of my life.

As I began to emerge from the darkest periods of my depression, an experience that lasted from my early teens through to my mid twenties, and began to come into harmony with my own voice and more solid in my own sense of self, the old cages that had confined me to an un-lived life began to dissolve and new frontiers of possibility and invitations for growth re-awakened within my soul.

One of those invitations was in relation to my sexuality. The task of true knowing takes time and is challenging but once a glimpse of your real and authentic self is experienced, once you come to see the defences you have built and the limitations you have accepted in your life to prevent further inner, silent wounds, you realise you will never again be truly satisfied with your old way of being, the emptiness of false living so that those around you will not be upset.  

‘This above all’, says Shakespeare in Hamlet, ‘to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night, the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man’.

It’s at this moment that the support of others becomes crucial because being real in what in many ways is an unreal world can be a terrifying experience. At this vulnerable time, a person may only require the presence and kindness and love of a friend to enable them to summon their courage and do whatever it is they have to do.   

When I reached this point in my life, I often read the poem by Mary Oliver called ‘The Journey’

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late enough,
and a wild night,

and the road full
of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Expressing an attraction to a member of the same gender is not ‘coming out’ of the closet, it’s about be-coming true to your own self, answering your sacred and precious self’s silent whispering and call from deep within, re-aligning your inner and outer worlds to the tune and rhythm and beat of your own drum and returning home to the sanctuary and dignity of your soul where the silence and stillness of an empty church sit side by side with the energy and fire of a rampant volcano.

In Ireland, there may not be groups attending events waving banners opposing homosexuality, there may not be gangs stalking the streets and hunting down people attracted to members of the same sex and torturing or killing them like there are in other parts of the world but in definite, subtle ways, there are subliminal messages lingering in the atmosphere of our society and are absorbed and seep into the minds and actions of individuals that being in the minority in terms of the expression of your sexuality means you are somehow ‘less than’ as a human being.

The words used by our young people in schools and coaches of sports teams to describe a boy or man as weak, the stereotyping in public forums of what it is to be a ‘gay’ man, Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which ensures legalised discrimination against people labelled transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay in the education and healthcare sectors, the inequality under the law for those whom choose to marry, all in their own explicit way combine to  espouse and maybe unintentionally, certainly encourage and give fuel to the continued ‘less than’ message. Nearly all of these actions find their sources in the echoes of previous generations where the shackling and repression of the human spirit and self was enforced and liberation and the championing of the uniqueness and differences of each individual was denied.

Sadly, for some individuals that continue to promote this message, they have failed to emerge from their shells of antiquity, continuing to live the life of others, their voices not their own but belonging to an era long gone. ‘Truth alone will endure’ says Gandhi, ‘all the rest will be washed away before the tide of time’. Tide and time waits for no man and despite the efforts of some to cling to the past, the truth of ‘all men being created equal’ will always endure.      

For some, the discovery that they are attracted to a member of the same sex can be a tortuous experience. Maya Angelou once said ‘There is no greater agony than the bearing of an untold story within you’. There is a certain joy in remaining hidden but it is a terrible tragedy if the real you can never be found. For many reasons and ones which are unique to each individual, some people have to de-press their attraction to a fellow man or woman and live lives of quiet desperation, silent misery and dark depression. The agony of their untold stories is carried to their graves, either through natural death or the ending of their lives through suicide.

No human being emerges from their mother’s womb feeling fearful and anxious about themselves, feeling frightened about being true to themselves, feeling ‘less than’ as a human being, feeling they have to hide their love. Its society that creates the culture and atmosphere that makes people feel like that and society is only ever a collection of individuals. In Ireland, the saying goes ‘It takes a community to raise a child’ so in various ways, we all carry a portion of shame for the fact that some people within our society feel they have to end their precious life because of whom they choose to love.

The theme of Cork Pride in 2014 is about celebrating heroes. If the word hero encompasses the fact that behind the veil of each human being and hero is the reality that each carries his own flaws and shadows within the beautiful complexity of their interior world, that no human being or hero is ever a finished thing, that because of the vast expansiveness and boundless depth within their souls, we can only ever glimpse or know about a small portion of their life story, then we have many heroes in our midst, some well known public figures and others whose actions and deeds may never garner the headlines but whom touch people’s lives in profound and meaningful ways.

David Norris proved to be a beacon of light in a very dark Ireland for many in years gone by and he has passed the torch he carried with such Olympic endeavour in to the capable hands of Jerry Buttimer and John Lyons whose proud voices ring true and loud around the hallowed halls of power in Dail Eireann. Ruairi Quinn and Alan Shatter, with support from the Fine Gael and Labour parties have furthered the cause of the minority during their terms in office. Eileen Gamble bravely continues to highlight the plight of teachers whom can still lose their jobs because of whom they choose to love and Colm O’Gorman’s reasoned and measured points of view during many a debate in his pursuit of equality for married couples stirs the heart with joy. Rory O’Neill through the power and eloquence of his voice and the force and magic of his personality inspires all whom hear or watch him. The many organisations  like the Other Place in Cork, GLEN and Belongto continue to be sanctuaries of support and shelters of love, kindness and hope for many people where they can discover their own courage to be true to themselves.  

Donal Og is a trailblazer for sportsmen the world over and the warm acceptance from his fellow players and the watershed speech from Dublin footballer Ger Brennan from the steps of the Hogan Stand in Croke Park where he thanked the players girlfriends and boyfriends, sends out a potent message to all people in our society from the most powerful sporting organisation in the country that it’s ok to be gay and certainly ok to be gay in the GAA.

All of these and many more continue to be rainbows in the cloud of discrimination, violence, inequality and intolerance that still engulf our country and world towards individuals in society.

When the artist Gilbert Baker designed the colours for the flag to represent ‘Pride’ back in 1978, he chose well. As discovered by Newton, the colours of the rainbow, fashioned from the forces of nature deep in the universe, combine to produce the brilliant white light that brings life and beauty to all things on our planet. We too have come from the stars and the white light, the oxygen we breathe, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood, all of them were forged from the fiery hearts of long vanished stars. We are pilgrims on a voyage through an earthly plane, spiritual beings whom have stopped off on our cosmic journey to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share.

The prism of life has split us all into different colours and forms but the rainbow and white light teaches us that none are more important or more equal than the other. Somewhere, deep in the caverns of our being, is the memory that we all come from the same source of white light, hetero or homosexual, Christian or Buddhist, male and female, Catholic or Protestant. Our quest surely is to remember and live out that truth during our time on Earth. There is a hunger and deep desire within every human heart that propels us to want to return home to the light of our real selves.

 If we can, if we can reach the point where all spectrums of our people are valued equally and combine our beautiful complexities of colours together, the white light of truth and love will not only exist in the heavans but will radiate out on this Earth for all of us to bask and dwell in. 

The ‘Pride’ march is not just a march to represent individuals whom are labelled gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. It’s a march to represent all of humanity and its continued pursuit of equality and harmony for all.

I wish you all well on our continued journey together, home to the pure white light and beauty of our real selves.     
This piece was initially written for the Cork LGBT Pride Festival Magazine for August 2014