November 02

Remember mental health

[Recently diagnosed Dyslexic- please excise any typos or grammar issues].

Yesterday was All Saints’ Day and today is All Souls’ Day. These are celebrated in various ways around the world. People attend services, light candles and visit their dead.

In particular I am drawn to the Mexican traditions of ‘Day of the Dead’, which were celebrated yesterday as Feliz Dia de Los Santos/Angelitos and today as Feliz Dia Los Muertos.

Some people will be familiar with the concept of the festivities from the Pixar film ‘Coco’.

As a Christian the occasions have particular resonance for me. They are a time to remember those who have gone before us and to reflect on the meaning they had in our lives.

My brother died aged 34 years old on 30th October 2009 from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. I believe that every day is a gift and that is how I live my life. I do not presume that tomorrow is guaranteed. My husband was in ICU in a coma in 2012. For 3 weeks I watched him motionless hooked up to the beeps of machines. Being aware of death makes us more grateful for life.

The service I attended yesterday was something that I needed. It spoke to me very deeply. We wrote the names of our departed ones ones on pebbles to add to the cairn outside. We lit candles that shone in the dimly lit church. The pastor spoke about how hard current times are. Usually when we are frightened and grieving we turn to our support systems, we are embraced by family, friends or members of our church or community groups.

Throughout our lives we look for rock cairns, both the physical, markers for where we are perhaps if we are out walking in the hills. And we also look for the symbolic, signs that we are where we should be. We look for ‘signs’ from loved ones, from the universe or from the divine.

The seasons and various celebrations that are traditions scattered throughout the calendar year can be serve as cairns. They show us where we are and they are markers of time They serve to remind us who we have shared that time with.

Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Christmas, these are lights in the darkness of winter for people. They are not necessarily about the events themselves, but they are markers in the year. They are times for families, friends, community groups to meet, to share food, to bathe in the pleasure of company.

The photographs we take each year of the same pumpkin patch, the same school uniform by the front door, the same sparklers and bonfires, they lay a trail of footprints and memories. They are chapters in the stories of our lives. They are a demonstration of the giant sand egg timer that we are all falling through. Those moments are what life is about.

We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries. We honour expectant mothers with cakes, balloons, gifts and stories. We send away retiring colleagues with cards filled with funny memories and commemorative gifts. We have card shops stuffed with every occasion catered for.

People need them. Without anything to look forward to, in the absence of the markers, life is bleak and flat. There is nothingness. We have nothing to mark our time by and people feel hopeless.

Christmas is important not just a religious festival (I appreciate that all religious festivities are important for all faiths) but it is a secular event too, it’s part of our culture. The twinkly fairy lights on the battered Christmas tree of home is a beacon for many people through long hard winters. It marks another year. There may be extra place settings for new partners and extra guests, there may be fewer chairs as people depart this life.

[I know Christmas is hard for many people. I simultaneously love it and struggle with feelings it brings up. In non-covid times there are lots of events available for those who are lonely and isolated].

I am increasingly irritated by the ‘I’m alright jack’ types, and the ‘I am always alone’ types. I am truly sorry if anybody is lonely and isolated not through choice. I also respect that some people don’t need human contact and friendship.

It may be obvious from my tone that I am a ‘people person’. I thrive off meaningful connections with others and it is what makes my life worth living. I say that as somebody with PTSD, and another mental health diagnosis I speak freely about in ‘real life’, and as a suicide attempt survivor. My joy in life comes from sharing simple pleasures with other people. In ‘normal times’ I see friends or family most days. My idea of hell is being isolated. I am an extroverted introvert and love my own company and reflective time, but I always have plans and love the energy of others. For me, life is about fellowship and sharing experiences, it is what makes me feel human and whole. I love people and strangers frequently strike up conversations with me.

The second lock down announcement has battered my mental health. I am very lucky, I have a nice life, with a loving husband, safe home, my dogs, a nice job that I enjoy, my hobbies and loved ones nearby. If the announcement of lock down has made me feel desperate and hopeless, how are more vulnerable people coping?

Mental health has been disregarded and minimized throughout this pandemic. You only have to read social media to see the contempt MH is held in: “I’d rather feel lonely than be dead”, “It is not hard to sit on your sofa watching Netflix”.

The thought of an endless cycle of on/off lock downs is making me feel horrendous. I am safe. I am one of the lucky ones. I have a safety plan and am open and honest with my husband, friends and Dr.

You are not a ‘covid denier’, a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or a mental health slur if you have genuine concerns about the harms of lock down. The mental health epidemic is real as are the other knock-on effects of lock down measures. People are struggling. I have strangers on dog walks disclose they are suicidal. I have friends very poorly with other conditions who need to be near their loved ones. I have friends and peers on the edge due to having their livelihoods crushed. The uncertainty of what society will look like when this eventually ends.

Needing others is natural. Zoom cannot compensate for a lack of touch, hugs and sharing a meal with your favourite people.

If you feel engulfed by the darkness, you are not alone, but know the light will overcome it. Please hold on. Your GP is still open, even if you have to use the ‘e consult’ system to gain access. I have posted some resources below.

Mind

Samaritans

NHS mental health

Thinking of everybody struggling right now and sending love.

Gemma x