G is for Grief

G is for Grief

Many of us have heard or are subliminally aware of the five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) as postulated in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross‘s famous book On Death and Dying. The book was published in 1969 and was the result of her work with the terminally ill.

Kübler-Ross noted later in life that the stages are not a linear and predictable progression and that she regretted writing them in a way that was misunderstood. Rather, they are a collation of five common experiences for the bereaved that can occur in any order, if at all. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%BCbler-Ross_model)

As a result of this misunderstanding, people seem to feel that grief is both a linear and a limited process that can be “got through” in a set amount of time; it then seems to legitimise the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that people encourage those grieving to move on, to put it behind them, and to cease grieving.

There is no hierarchy of grief. Some will grieve for losses that others consider negligible. The loss of a beloved companion animal is as painful for some as the loss of a parent; it all depends on the relationship and on the circumstances. Having seen others say, “It was only a dog/cat/guinea pig; get over it!” I can testify to the cruelty of such speech. We all feel grief in different ways and for different things.

Every one of my novels is about grief and grieving in very different ways and for different people. Antony in The Bet is buried under a heap of grief, so unable to process it that he has become numb and detached and so lost and vulnerable in his need for comfort that he mistakes the attentions of the predatory Jenny for affection and love, and so descends into a further hell. His journey back out of that hell is the story of one journey through multiple griefs. Strangers and Pilgrims focuses on the journeys of six people through loss, grief and unhealed hurts. Square Peg starts with a funeral and the loss of the only stable, loving person in much of Chloe’s life, just at a time when the loss of her previous way of life and the start of a new and very alien one has destablised her and left her at risk from loneliness, grief and confusion. Away With The Fairies is primarily Isobel’s exploration of the loss of both parents.

Yet grief has a single unspoken component that Kübler-Ross’s work points to, that all grief returns to a single point, that of our own mortality, best summed up by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poignant poem Spring and Fall, which I tend to remember as Goldengrove (another G)

Spring and Fall

(to a young child)

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

( I blogged on this poem before:  https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2011/03/14/endings-and-beginnings-why-you-need-to-grieve-for-the-past-before-you-can-begin-anew/ )

Advertisements
C is for Cat

C is for Cat

C is for Cat

There is a theory that people are either dog people or cat people. Personally, I think this is mostly rubbish. I’ve lived with many animals, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, snails (yes, really) and would love a small menagerie of my own. Each animal is an individual and therefore expresses that. We’ve had more cats than dogs, admittedly. Our last dog often behaved in a more cat-like way, but that was because from puppy-hood she was brought up by several cats.

Cats were once worshipped as divine (ancient Egypt, obviously) and I suspect they have never quite forgotten this. People who don’t much like cats often say they are merely mercenary, and regard us as food providers at best but recent research suggests otherwise (http://time.com/4714823/cats-very-social-study/) and I’d agree.

The purr of a cat is a very soothing thing, but it’s also thought to be healing. http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-healing-power-of-cat-purrs-infographic Our newest cat has the loudest purr I have ever heard; she sounds like a distant chain saw.

Other research has concluded that having a pet enhances life, and may even extend it; pet owners apparently live longer than non-pet owners of the same socio-economic group. Cats are a relatively easy pet to share a home with; they don’t require taking out for walks, though some take to leads well. Our late Watson used to go for walks with us, (sans lead) and used to walk as far as the primary school my daughter attended, wait at the school gates and then walk back with me.

One other snippet: cat actually means dog. The word catulus in Latin means little dog or puppy (according to QI anyway) http://old.qi.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=16080&view=next&sid=21e3c60a74f8d4d0dcbb06a4f7d60500

Don’t break the bank to enjoy poetry…

If you haven’t already nabbed my first poetry collection Accidental Emeralds, it’s 99p on special offer for a few days, before going up to £1.99 for another few, then back to the original (and very reasonable) price of £2.90.

I’m removing all my books now from the Select programme, which means they’ll not be available to borrow through Kindle Unlimited, and I won’t be able to do these convenient Countdown sales. I’d thought long and hard about this; the incentives to have books in the Select programme have become scanty. I get less and less for borrows, and it seems there are risks (long story) to having books there. So I decided that those that were in, are coming out, so I unticked the auto renew box.  I wasn’t earning any more from having them in, and peace of mind is more important than pennies anyway. I’d also noticed a pattern of rankings changing when people borrowed a book, but then they’d either not read the book at all or the pages weren’t coming up as read. So I don’t think I am losing anything.

Incidentally, if you have read any of my books, liked them but haven’t reviewed, I’d be deeply grateful for new reviews. It seems that regular reviews are what keeps a book moving; above a certain number and the legend is that you get more promotion from the ‘Zon. Fairies is close to the 50 review threshold (46 as I write) and that’s one of the mythical, mystical numbers of the legend. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s worth considering. Accidental Emeralds has three really sterling reviews and more would be very cheering if nothing else.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Longing-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500242187?ie=UTF8&qid=1468660246&ref_=la_B00766135C_1_8&s=books&sr=1-8 

“She’s only after the attention!”

“She’s only after the attention!”

I bought a new chair a few weeks ago.

Bravo, you might say and then look puzzled. A new chair? Yes. Very nice. But why are you telling us about it?

Bear with me a moment. It’s a chair I’ve wanted to buy for about ten years but we never had anywhere to put it so it was never bought. It’s that classic design from Ikea, rejoicing in the delightful name Poang. You might know it; it also has a matching footstool. Neither are expensive and so I put one in our trolley on our last Ikea visit.

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

When you sit in it, this chair seems to be tailored to fit your contours perfectly. Put your feet up and it’s even better. But the slightest movement results in a gentle, soothing rocking motion that is supremely relaxing as long as you’re not prone to sea-sickness. Once the chair was assembled, I sat in it and found myself rocking automatically, and I pulled a blanket over me and felt safe. The phrase “self-soothing” sprang to mind. Babies and small children are difficult sometimes to persuade that bed and sleep are good things, and part of what parents are expected to teach them is a process of self-soothing whereby the children can just go to bed and get themselves off to sleep without the endless round of rocking, cuddling, holding, bottle(or breast), music and so on. It’s part of the process of encouraging our off-spring to be independent beings who don’t need us for their security and sense of safety and comfort.

What bothers me is that it seems to begin at birth. No sooner is the babe out of the womb than we’re encouraged to shove them in a cot or pram and expect the poor little things to cope with it. Imagine: your whole existence up till this point, you have been cocooned and held in warmth and have your every (albeit basic) needs met without having to seek it. Now you’re out in a world where you have to scream to be fed and held, and nothing feels right. You’ve never been alone before. No wonder babies scream so much.

As parents (if you’ve been lucky enough to have kids, that is) you have little or no preparation for this, and if you are like me, you have no one around you to advise except mid-wives, health visitors, and a few friends in the same boat, trying to figure it out and get sufficient sleep. You’re often bombarded by conflicting advice from relatives and from books and TV and websites(when mine was born, the internet per se did not exist) and the most common advice is that you bend the infant to your will, to your way of living. Don’t give in to this miniature tyrant who bosses you around and makes you do their bidding, is the general opinion, and you are told you will “spoil” your baby if you do.

I remember a close friend who had a daughter a bit older than mine, being told by another young mum that the child who was having a tantrum was “only doing it for attention.” My wise friend retorted coolly, “Then I had better give her some attention.”

Fast forward to the present day.

With the internet, cries for attention pepper the time-lines of Twitter, the pages of Facebook and are the staple of blogging. Indeed, to some, blogging itself is regarded as the most vile of attention seeking. I recall TV presenter Andrew Marr saying something of the sort.

A baby that does not have its emotional needs met in infancy usually is damaged by the experience. Bodies can thrive and grow but the spirit can be stunted and scarred by lack of attention. It’s a fundamental human need to be of value & importance to those around us, and when it is lacking, however much notional love is present in a family, there remains a void in the centre of a person’s soul.

I belong to the generation whose mothers were told to feed Baby and put them in the garden in their pram to watch washing blowing on the line and ignore their cries until it is time for the next feed. A friend of my mother’s used to put the pram at the bottom of the orchard, a considerable distance from the house, so she could not hear the baby crying. I was myself kidnapped as a ten day old baby. Obviously I don’t remember it but I do sometimes feel sure that the impact on me at the time has resonance to this day. My generation were not cuddled and coddled and the worst thing you could be as a child was an “attention seeker”, especially if you were a girl. The truth is that there’s a good chance that much of what is going hopelessly wrong with the Western world has its roots in children who grew up craving attention but seldom getting it in ways that fed the soul. To learn to self-soothe is still encouraged by popular psychology that dictates that no one cane truly help you except yourself. I disagree. We are a tribal people whether we accept it or not; we are not built to be totally emotionally and physically isolated. John Donne’s famous words, No man is an island, are true to this day.

So the next time you see someone attention-seeking, whether online or in “real life”, perhaps it is worth considering why they might be behaving this way and what deep need is being exhibited. Compassion for the self and for others might well be the best first step towards healing generations of people damaged by the myths of strength and independence that have filled our national identities and characters and have damaged the souls of so many.

Kindness and compassion. It’s a good place to start.

Valentine’s Day ~ love, or obsession and lust?

 

I thought that since it was Valentine’s Day I would offer something about love. I’m so far from being romantic as to be almost anti-matter to romance’s matter. But I do understand a little about love and about the things that sometimes seem to pass for love.

Obsession is often mistaken for love, as is lust and desire. But neither come anywhere near the real experience of love. Sadly, many settle for those three, believing that a combination of them is surely a close enough match for the experience of being in love or of learning to love. Much of fiction seems to focus more closely on those because to be honest, the drama and emotion they generate is also more enticing in these high octane times than the quiet experience of deep love or the soaring brilliance of requited grand passion.

I thought I would share with you a chapter from my novel, The Bet. This is from chapter 16. The obsession and the lust and the desire are there in spades.

Jenny became increasingly frustrated and isolated as the weeks went by without results; frustrated because Ashurst refused to sleep with her, isolated because she had to be very careful of what she said to her friends. She had mixed feelings about talking to Judy, who did occasionally ask her how the hunt was going, and then simply looked superior when it became plain success was eluding her.

I don’t know why I don’t just lie to you,” she said to Judy in their usual bar corner.

Because I can spot a lie at fifty paces,” Judy said smugly. “You’d be looking like the cat that got the cream if you’d really screwed him. Oh, don’t worry; you’ve got a while yet. First of March was the deadline, I think we agreed. But I’ll make it a thousand if you get him by Christmas.”

Kay wasn’t much use; Jenny could tell her very little that would make her feel better. She only hung round Jenny in the hope of leftovers, and she was obviously delighted that Jenny was not getting what she wanted for the first time. But Kay was her only friend who wasn’t a gossip, who wouldn’t tell the others how often she sat in some bar or other waiting for him to come in, how often she had to play the part of the plain friend being taken out for the evening.

You should call him,” Kay said one evening when it was clear he wasn’t going to be there.

I don’t have his number,” Jenny said hopelessly.

Kay made herself not laugh out loud.

You’re kidding, you must have his mobile number by now,” she said.

He doesn’t have one. Can you believe it? He must be the only kid not to have one. When I asked, he just shrugged and said he didn’t need one. I was so put out; I didn’t get round to asking for his home number and he didn’t offer.”

She didn’t add that he’d left immediately after that, clearly unhappy about the way she was pushing him.

How am I supposed to contact you then?” she’d called as he left the busy pub.

He’d not answered, just shrugged as he walked away.

He’s got to be gay,” she said another evening to Judy.

Believe me, he is not gay,” Judy said. “It’s all there in good working order. Why do you think he starts shaking every time you touch him or even go near him, if he doesn’t find you sexy.” She thought about it for a moment. “I shouldn’t give you any hints, really; it’s not in my interest really, but I’m a softy at heart. Try being kind, you know, back off obviously trying to seduce him. Oh, and I would also suggest you find yourself an extra lover if that Paul isn’t cutting the mustard enough. It’s a well-fed cat that catches the most mice, if you know what I mean.”

She was reduced to ringing him at work, relieved to catch him without the old man around.

I was thinking, I’ve not seen you around for a while,” she said. “Why don’t you come over to mine tonight and I’ll cook us both dinner?”

Sorry, I can’t. It’s very kind of you but the boss has gone home early sick and I need to work late, and then I’m meeting my father this evening.”

Well, later on then?”

I’m not sure when I’ll finish,” he said, but she could hear the doubt in his voice.

OK. What if I pop round to you after I’ve finished at school and before you need to go out, and I’ll bring something. I’ve been missing you. It’s been tough at work, lately. You’re so soothing. I always feel much more chilled when I can talk to you. Look I’ll come over as soon as I’ve finished at school, bring some sandwiches or something.”

That’s very kind of you,” he said. “Look, I’ve got to go now, but if you come round to the back of the museum, I’ll leave the gate to the courtyard on the latch and you can ring the bell at the back door and I can let you in.”

It was after six when she got to the museum; she’d gone home to change, and then had had trouble finding somewhere to buy sandwiches. All the lunchtime places were closed and she’d been obliged to go to the supermarket. The gate was unlocked, but when she rang the bell at the back door, the place seemed empty and deserted. Damn it, had he stood her up? She rang and rang again, and eventually she heard the door being unlocked.

He was in shirtsleeves, tie askew; his face and hands filthy, his hair full of dust, and a cobweb was draped from his ear.

Sorry, I was in the basement. I didn’t hear the bell at first, so I was hoping you’d still be here when I got up the stairs,” he said.

How did you get so filthy?” she asked as he let her slip past him.

Oh, am I? So I am. Sorry. The records said there was something we need for this new gallery down in one particular box, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be at all, and I sort of got distracted. Come upstairs and I’ll try to get clean.”

He showed her into an office similar to that of the old man, but there were no stuffed animals, just more boxes and cartons.

Please make yourself at home,” he said, and then grinned. “Well, as much as is possible in this shoebox.”

How come you don’t have any of those dead things your boss has got?” she asked.

I put the owl and the badger in Greville’s office just to see how long it would take for him to notice, but it was weeks before he said anything. I think he assumed one of the cleaners had put them there. He just stuck the owl on his shelf and left the badger on the chair. Once I’ve got an idea what I can do with them, I’ll get them back. Look, I must wash. I didn’t realise what a mess I was in. There’s a kitchenette thing just up the hall if you’d put the kettle on for me. I won’t be long and then I’ll make us some tea.”

She followed him out along the corridor and when he had shown her the tiny kitchen, he vanished into another small room, from which, after a moment she heard the sounds of running water. She filled the kettle, then sat down at the small table and waited. The kettle had boiled by the time he came back, hair damp and rumpled but clean, face and arms clean, though his shirt was still grimy and damp.

You should keep a spare shirt here if this happens often,” she remarked.

I do; this is it. You should have seen the other one. I had a box fall on me this morning. Twenty minutes before I had a class coming in, it had something, well, organic and probably mammalian in it, but it had decayed rather spectacularly. There are some areas of the basement that are damp, and things are not in a good state in some of the boxes. So when I went to look for something, first I got all the dust from the lid, because I reached up just to see if I could check what was in it without having to go and get the steps, then I slipped and pulled it down and got the rest of the contents over my head. Greville was furious when I got back upstairs looking like, well, I don’t know what I looked like, with about five minutes to go before the class arrived. I did get clean in time though.”

He made tea as if he were in a hurry, and then they ate sandwiches in silence. She wanted to reach across the table and touch his wet untidy hair, but she stopped herself.

You seem ever so tense,” she said.

Do I? Sorry,” he said, and then hesitated. “I’m supposed to be meeting my father later this evening, and I do get a bit nervous. I never know quite what’s going to happen, there’s so much we never talked about and now… I think he’s trying to make up for lost time.”

She got up, to put the wrappers in the bin, then stood behind him, and decisively put her hands on his shoulders. He jumped a little as she’d expected but didn’t try to move away.

God, you’re tense,” she said, kneading at his shoulders. “Relax, I’m only trying to help.” After a minute, when she could feel him beginning to relax with the neutral touch, she said, “It’d help if you took this shirt off. I can’t massage so well through cloth.”

There was a moment when she thought he’d refuse, but her strong fingers were clearly easing some of the knots, and he surprised her by pulling the shirt off over his head, not bothering with buttons except the top two.

That’s better,” she said, leaning closer and digging her fingers firmly into the muscles, enjoying the chance to see him properly. He was slender but well-muscled, and his skin was very smooth, like a child’s, and as she leaned closer to him to concentrate on kneading his shoulders and back, she could smell his skin, sweet like a child’s with that primrose-like odour, overlaid by a deeper muskier scent. She could feel her own breathing quicken slightly. If she tried anything now, he’d never let her get this close again, at least not soon, so she simply rubbed and kneaded his shoulders and back and was gratified by his closed eyes and occasional small noises of appreciation.

There you go, that’ll feel better,” she said finally, and watched him pull his shirt back on.

You’re very kind,” he said, wriggling his shoulders. “I hadn’t realised how tense I was. Thank you.”

You’ve been very kind to me, so it’s about time I returned the favour,” she said, sitting back at the table and taking hold of his hand. He’d relaxed enough not to pull away, but she wondered if he’d kiss her. He was smiling at her; that was good. He’d been unusually talkative this evening; it might be a good moment to try and get a few answers.

Look, I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem to like being touched,” she said. “You jump if I so much as touch your shoulder, and when I’ve hugged you, you just seem to shake.”

He flushed very slightly, and she could see him become very tense again, as if he was expecting her to ask him again to go to bed with her. Then he smiled nervously and said, rather evasively,

I’m just not used to it.”

She looked at him quizzically and waited. Maybe silence would work better than specific questions. After a moment he squeezed her hand and let go.

I don’t know if you know, but I grew up mostly with my aunt and uncle and their family. My aunt isn’t big on cuddles, not even for small children. You know the sort; she kisses the air rather than the cheek? Not exactly a tactile family,” he said, trying to smile. “So I’m really not used to it and…” He stopped, clearly panicking.

It’s OK,” she said grabbing his hand again. “What about your mum? Did she not cuddle you when you were tiny?”

There was real alarm on his face, but he managed to control it.

I don’t really remember,” he said. “I left when I was about six. I don’t know if you know any of this, don’t suppose there’s any reason why you would anyway, but my mother killed herself in April, and I really don’t like talking about it, so if you don’t think me rude, I’d like to change the subject.”

He was obviously upset, so she got up, went round behind him and leaned over and put her arms round him and just held him, feeling the heat of his body and the slight tremor, and just whispered to him, “I’m sorry.”

He let her hold him for a moment, then stood up and held her back, standing together in a wordless embrace, until she turned her head up to him and he kissed her. She had been about to kiss him, but this was much better. She kissed him hard, pushing her tongue through his lips, feeling his mouth open to hers. Oh, yes, this was working. She very carefully undid a button on his shirt, and slipped her hand inside, feeling the smooth hot skin, feeling him shudder as she touched his nipple. He broke away from the kiss.

No,” he said.

Why not?” she asked, not moving.

He just shook his head. She looked at his eyes; the pupils were dilated so far that his eyes looked black, but he was barely looking at her.

I’ve got to go,” he said. “I need to change and I’ll be late. Thanks for the sandwiches; it was very kind of you.”

He’d suddenly changed from being clearly, even passionately interested, to being polite, distant, cold even. But when she passed him to get to the door, she could see he was still shaking. 

You can see more about the book at the following links, and check out the reviews. There are 14 excellent reviews on the UK site, 3 of which are also on the US site. You can download a free sample, if you have a Kindle or use a Kindle app for pc or phone. The price has been lowered too, to bring it in line with the prices of my other books.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392225792&sr=1-6

http://www.amazon.com/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392225792&sr=1-6

I have fallen in love

I have fallen in love… with goldfish

Earlier this year we decided that it was high time our pond was populated with something a bit brighter and shinier than frogs, toads and newts so we went to a garden centre and bought a batch of goldfish. At a pound each, these little tiddlers weren’t expensive or exotic but in terms of making me smile, they turn out to be priceless.

So when they started turning up dead, or dying, chomped on by dragonfly nymphs, I was pretty upset. There’s masses of things in the pond for the nymphs to hunt, and that’s the natural order of things. Of the thousands of tadpoles, toad-poles and newt-poles (yes, I am making up these names) very few will make it to adulthood and join in the joyous orgiastic frenzy of mating that made our pond this spring an interesting spectacle to rival the Serengetti (but on a very small scale). That’s just how it is: nature, red in tooth and claw. But I felt very protective of my pretty little fish, who have no defence (I don’t think they even have teeth, as such) and every time one bobbed up, dead, I was angry. We cleared away some of the overgrowth so that they had more clear water to enjoy without being ambushed by beings that closely resemble the Aliens from, well, Alien (jaws that shoot out a distance out of the creatures head).

No more dead fishies. But with clear water came greater visibility and more chance to observe the fish. And watching them has become a very powerful thing. They do things. They have a social order and a hierarchy among the shoal. They each have personalities and quirks. And I realised that I love them, very dearly, and they will never know this, for what way can I, a human, speak to them, small fish of the carp family?

So I feed them. I stand and watch them. I speculate about their lives, their feelings. They do odd things that I cannot fathom. One of their activities is to lie in the shallows, inert and still. First time I saw one do this, I thought it was dead and scooped it up in my hand. The fish woke up, and thrashed around and I released it back into the water. On a sunny day, you might find almost all of them lined up in the shallows, sleepy and unresponsive.

I began to tickle them. I don’t want them in the shallows, as crows come to the pond to drink, so I want to make them stay in deeper water. I have speculated long on why they do this, and I have no idea. Perhaps they are meditating, the way we might meditate on a mountain top. I can’t ask them and they can’t tell me. Sometimes I see them at the surface, blowing bubbles. For all I know they might be praying, or trying to communicate with me.

So I will continue to try to care for them, even though they can never thank me, or speak with me, or even really meet, as minds. Every time I see their gleam, flashing past as they swim, often in formation, they gladden my heart, and deep inside me, I hope that in their own fishy way, they know I love them. 

Pond Painting

Vine leaves, dandelions and serendipity ~ my thoughts on the TAP conference

Vine leaves, dandelions and serendipity ~ my thoughts on the TAP conference

There is a woman on the train with two small children. She’s beautiful, dressed in stylish clothes, her hair immaculate. The children are boys, one aged about four, the other a baby of about fifteen months, seated in a pushchair. They’re well clothed, clean, well-fed. The older boy talks constantly, the air punctuated by “mummy mummy mummy”, and the baby grizzles in that tired way of babies who need a nap, a feed, a cuddle, the grizzling becoming an occasional screaming fit. The mother ignores the children more or less totally, only answering the older child when his demands become loud or he makes the baby yell. Her entire focus is on her smart-phone, held in manicured hands like a pearl beyond price, her long fingernails whipping across the screen and her eyes dead as they scan the phone for something . Her face is without expression; it looks more like a mask. The older boy glances at me from time to time, his eyes bright but I can see shadows behind them. I want to say, “You have two beautiful children” and take the phone from her and throw it out the window, but I do not know her story, only the one I am making up for her.

This weekend I traveled down to Somerset to be a small part of the annual TAP conference. . Asked to present two small vignettes (that’s the vine leaves of the title) as a kind of grounding exercise, I was inevitably very nervous. I felt entirely out of my league. But my friend Suzie / was wonderfully supportive. She’s their administrator, and also the reason I was there at all. You may remember the launch of Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, / the book collated and edited by Suzie to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities (SANE and OCD Action). The book is a collection of essays, poems, and pictures written by people affected by depression and anxiety (and other things too) and is something I’ve been very proud to be a part of. My essay also gave the title for the book, and it was one of two vignettes I read. The other, which I read at the start of the conference, was The Uninvited Guest.

But I’m only a tiny part of this conference. There were other vignettes, and three main speakers. Dr Christopher Irons, Alison Evans and Martin Seager were the headliners. Alison spoke about Mindfulness, a buzzword right now, and billed to be the next magic bullet for the NHS once CBT starts to lose its lustre. Chris spoke about Compassion Focused Therapy, and his words on the genetic side of depression made a big impression on me. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t choose this.” At the heart of this is compassion, the theme that ran through everything, and cropped up seredipitously in every conversation. Compassion for the self. “It’s NOT your fault. You didn’t choose this.” It was good to hear. I see and read and hear so much from people who espouse the philosophy of The Law of Attraction whereby (put simply) everything in your life from relationships to illness is something you have at some level chosen and drawn to you. The guilt and the self blame and the sheer misery this is creating in many people is a damning indictment of such a concept. Those of us with illness that threatens our very existence do not need such blaming.

It was the final main speaker whose words really made me sit up and take notice. I’d had dinner with the other speakers and the committee members the night before and that had been a great chance to get to know them a little. Martin mentioned that he’d suffered a serious bereavement that week which gave certain poignancy to his talk, because the nub of his hour and a half is that depression is not an illness that can be medicalised but rather something endemic to the human condition.

This is what he said:

Depression is not a “mental illness” but a common part of the human condition when key emotional needs are not met  Where does self-worth come from? Not difficult to answer. It comes from relationship from the first attachment onwards.

Mentalization and personality/self development  The vital relationship between identity and identification – if a caregiver doesn’t accurately identify with you, you can’t become a healthy self

We don’t fail to value ourselves because we have a condition called “depression”, rather we feel depressed when our lives are not mirrored, valued or supported – this is the human condition

http://www.taplimited.org.uk/Martin%20Seager%20TAP.pdf

2007 (Seager et al) paper refers to 5 key (overlapping) needs that can be summarised thus (beyond Maslow’s hierarchy which is upside down!):

(a) to be loved (attachment and emotional investment)

(b) To be heard/recognised/attended to (empathy)

(c) Identity and belonging (identification with a family and/or other social group)

(d) To make a difference (achievement and influence)

(e) Belief, meaning and purpose (spiritual)

It brings me back to that little family on the train. I don’t know that woman’s story, or why she failed to engage with her children at all. I was on a train with her for more than forty minutes and another forty minutes in a waiting room. She never once met my eye or the eye of anyone else. She never spoke to her children, or cuddled them. She attended to their physical needs, giving a drink to the baby without letting him out of his pushchair, and gave a baby wipe to the older child so he could wipe his own hands and face. There was an awareness of the basic needs of the physical, of keeping them safe, and warm and fed, but from an observer’s point of view, that seemed to be all.

Imagine this: if all human beings have these needs {to be loved (attachment and emotional investment) To be heard/recognised/attended to (empathy) Identity and belonging (identification with a family and/or other social group) To make a difference (achievement and influence)Belief, meaning and purpose (spiritual)} and if these needs are not met, is it any wonder that depression is the fastest rising condition and there was a rise of 40% in medication to treat it in 2011? You cannot put love in a pill. You cannot give meaning to another life by medicating the person. You cannot hear a person by prescribing them with Prozac. Martin (and I for that matter) are not against medication for acute phases of depression; it can save lives. But the evidence is that medication is not working and the search for newer, better, medications and therapies goes on. My thoughts are we are missing something very important here.