Mental Illness and Grief: Stories That Need To Be Written

It’s an interesting decision of mine, to carry on writing my book, when due to it’s subject matter, I know that my chances of ever being published are about as high as Glenn McGrath’s invitation to MC an RSPCA conference.

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And no, it’s not because the subject matter of my never-to-be-published book is some X-rated erotica where Christian Grey actually gets his penis out, or a threatening feminist tale about how women will ultimately rule the boardroom.

It’s about ‘grief’.

You see, I have it on good authority, (thank you Kerri Sackville), that the topic of ‘grief’ is not saleable – even though ‘death’ is something that affects all of us, no matter which party we vote for, demographic or country we live in.

In short, the first chapter of my book opens with a suicide – SHOCK! HORROR!– because no-one wants to be reminded that suicide happens, even when the number of cases has almost doubled in certain age groups over recent years; and with the increase in drug use and impact of social media and cyber-bullying, we are certain to witness a huge surge amongst young people).

In a year where suicide has been highlighted in Australia due to the untimely deaths of celebrities Charlotte Dawson and Robin Williams, how can we still be pushing education about mental health issues under the carpet?

But back to the book. So how exactly did I get my book so awkwardly wrong?

Well mainly because having spent the past thirty-plus years grieving, I know a little bit about that topic and the ensuing mental illness it can provoke. And as a friend (who is still grieving and feeling misunderstood) pointed out recently, no-one can really understand grief unless they’ve been there themselves; so suggestions from naïve do-gooders to ‘move on’ can be highly inflammatory.

I mean, I get it…sadness and anger are uncomfortable emotions to be around in this world where we are supposed to spray a mist of happiness around us, and pretend to be upbeat and personally successful all the time – to fit in.

But grieving is an exhausting preoccupation, and like depression, the uninitiated can interpret it as a type of self-flagellation. But let me assure you, it’s even more exhausting having to pretend not to be sad and in pain, simply to appease the undeveloped senses of those around you.

Spookily enough, depression is a huge theme in my book, too.

(Definitely a bestseller on my hands!)

Depression is another wrist-slapping/don’t-go-there topic in the world of publishing, I imagine?

The point is, my book is therapy for me. It’s a story I needed to tell. It’s a story that will force my readers to deal with skeletons in closets, mental illness, guilt, family dysfunctionality and self-development head on.

And you’ll know if you read my blog, I happen to be an expert in all of those areas.

But I don’t view my little piece of never-to-be-published fiction as a sad story. The death of a loved one changes the future of those closest to them, but it can also create a sense of awakening.

‘Growth’ can emerge from the isolating cocoon of grief.

And there are some funny bits in my book, too, because I find it impossible to be serious about serious stuff most of the time. Humor and self-deprecation have always been strategies to help me cope with blackness.

We’re not all afraid to confront our emotions, in spite of what those silly publishers believe.

Did I ever tell you about how my foot slipped on the wet mud at my mother’s funeral and I nearly plunged headfirst into the hole dug for her coffin?

She would have laughed her head off.

Life’s ‘Colour’ Shouldn’t Cost Anything

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I overthink all the time, particularly these last few days in the light of the death of Robin Williams.


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Overthinking is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us remain accountable for our decisions and to think about whether we are making the most of each day.

 

 

 

But overthinking can be exhausting.

 

 

 

The ‘thinkers’ among us, and I don’t define a ‘thinker’ by intelligence, are those of us who are more prone to self-analysis, self-blame and general dissatisfaction as a result of those exhausting thought processes. We expose ourselves to setting the bar too high and then being disappointed, which can ultimately lead to depression.

 

 

 

I wish I was one of those people who have the fortunate disposition to embrace life no matter what shit it slings at them. I envy them. But many of us become bogged down by the nitty-gritty and what we perceive as bad luck – a bit like when you ski over a mud patch. We become ‘victims’ because even though we might believe that we make our own luck very, very deep down, when fate throws those curve balls to test our strength, we can’t dodge the feeling of inadequacy they create.

 

 

 

Being a victim is not an attractive trait and we’re very aware of that.  But sometimes the victim’s lair is a hard one to crawl out of.


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When that shit rains down on us personally, or we hear about something awful that has happened to someone we love and catch ourselves thinking ‘fuck, that could have been me’, we might have a short-term knee-jerk reaction and make a pathetic effort to try and remain positive for a while, but it usually only lasts until the next dollop of shit hits the fan.

 

 

 

From a global and superficial perspective, we know how lucky we are in the western world. In theory, we have very little reason to be unhappy. It is impossible to compare the poor in the west to the poor in the East, if you measure those riches in terms of money. We are fortunate to have the best health care systems, we take sanitation for granted, we suffer from little disease, have adequate employment and enough money for most of us to be able to feed our families.

 

 

 

Yet, still many of us aren’t happy, are we? Because we know that those riches aren’t the important ones. Rich people get depressed and commit suicide too.

 

 

 

An Indian client of mine told me the other day that his first impression of Sydney is of a lack of vibrancy and ‘colour’; and by ‘colour’ he was not describing different races.

 

 

 

I was surprised. There seems to be plenty of vibrancy and colour when you walk down Oxford St or into The Rocks late on a Saturday night.

 

 

 

But in his opinion, even though Indian society has so much less to offer in terms of monetary reward and benefit, the people have so much more to give. Their ‘colour’ is not superficial, it’s not dependent on things that cost money. The spirit and ‘colour’ of his country comes from its sense of community. A sense of community that offers an inner peace and happiness.

 

 

 

Interestingly, there is very little depression.    

 

 

 

The large western cities of the world can be isolating places to live – full of tourists and migrants who are alone and bereft of support from close family. The ‘colour’ of a community emanates from the love and warmth of family and friends and it can be lost when that family is divided. Community is created from spending time with people, knowing and understanding them and having a focus outside of work.

 

 

 

Religion can work to bring a community together too. It’s not all bad. I admit that I’m one of those sceptics that walks by my Christian church each week and watches their happy-clappy group love longingly, and then bitches about religion. Religion has its issues, and we certainly don’t need religion to build a community, but it can be a starting point.

 

 

 

Our children become more self-centred without elders to remind them about manners and respect. I see this problem in my own children. They haven’t had to sit through the rituals of family dinners or been knocked into shape by elderly, less tolerant relatives and so they have a tendency to be self-absorbed, to act ‘entitled’ – anything that doesn’t benefit them directly is too much for them.

 

 

 

We have failed in our responsibility to teach them how to give properly.

 

 

 

On the positive side, they are confident young adults because we have given them the opportunity to explore more of the world, absorb different cultures, the freedom of dual citizenship and access to a lifestyle that is more at one with nature.

 

 

 

But who do they turn to when they are pissed off with us? Who talks to them when we don’t know how to handle them? Communication with their friends is via their phones and social media these days, not at church, not around a raucous, Sunday lunch table with their extended family.

 

 

 

We are creating our own isolation and giving ourselves more time to overthink.

 

 

 

Perhaps that’s where western society has got it wrong. Life’s ‘colour’ shouldn’t cost anything.