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Caroline Flack – The Fear Factor

Caroline Flack’s suicide has sent shockwaves around the internet. It confirms that we should never allow our externals to define us. By all appearances, Caroline had everything to live for – fame, beauty, love, friends. Yet, it clearly was not enough. Perhaps she allowed her troubles to overshadow all these positives, and she reached the point where she felt she had no choice but to kill herself.

Caroline was entertainment magic. From the co-host of CBBC, co-host of X-factor, winner of ‘Strictly Come Dancing 2014’, performer in West End musical, ‘Chicago’ and host of reality hit show ‘Love Island’, her obvious charisma and infectious laughter lit up a room and won her legions of fans.

Yet, the manner of her death begs the question – on what paradigm did she base her life? Did she compare it to a merry-go-round with constant amusement, or did she see herself as a ‘clown’ in a comedic production? Speculative as it is,  a clown has a limited shelf life when accusations of physical abuser begin to surface. Suddenly, the laughter stops and the work becomes unsustainable. She stepped down as the host of ‘Love Island’ and was not fired,  suggesting that the mounting pressure of the bad press and negative social media commentary had become too much.

Despite the fact that her boyfriend, with whom she continued to be in a relationship, wished to withdraw the charges, the Crown Prosecution Service  decided to forge ahead with the criminal trial. She had pleaded not guilty to the charges of assaulting her boyfriend.

Like all entertainers, she wanted her audience to feel good not badly. The one who brought the sunshine was suddenly shrouded in shame. No doubt, that was what she thought.

This unfortunate aspect of Caroline’s life put her under the glare of the media spotlight. She magnified the looming court case in her mind to such an extent that it became a monster which threatened to destroy everything she had worked so hard for all her life.

The truth is that even if Caroline had been convicted, she would have risen from the ashes to fight and win another day. This one incident did not have the power to define her life, unless she permitted it to. There was so much more to Caroline that one moment of weakness or misjudgement. Unfortunately, she was so busy grappling with the monster whose primary weapon of torture was fear, that she could not see this truth.

But will she be remembered for all her many acts of public performance which brought the feel-good factor or  for her final act of surrender which has left us feeling so sad? That final act was never in the script. Even Caroline could not have envisaged that her life would end so tragically.

The clue of what may have driven her over the edge is the date of her suicide. Valentine’s Day holds a lot of expectations for a lot of people. They either feel blessed by ‘Cupid’ or terribly let down. It was the day after Valentine’s Day. Unable to communicate with her partner and sweetheart due to the court’s restraining order, and missing him intensely, she sunk to the depths of despair.

Perhaps the findings of her inquest, and in time, the revelations from those who knew her and communicated with her in her final weeks and days on this earth, will help to shed light on what drove her to this fatal decision. Until then, as survivors, we would all benefit from bearing in mind that there is always a way through the seeming quagmire of the challenges we face in life. We just need to hold on for one more day.

Human Value

A prevailing message in this world is that human beings are expendable. Yet the fact remains that each human being is of value to someone else, and most fundamentally to God. Because the world has become a global village we are overwhelmed by the vastness of the world, yet the world has become accessible with ease of international travel. Our interests in our families and local community have been sidelined or de-prioritised by  an interest in world news and international affairs. As our interest in the world has grown in proportion to our interest in global domination, marketing and popularity, the individual has grown smaller and may consequently feel less significant.

Human life is of inestimable value regardless of age, gender, religion ethnicity nor any other means by which human beings categorise and rate one another

Suicide When Your Body Betrays You

The world is a better place because Professor Stephen Hawkings did not kill himself. Diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, and given a life expectancy of two years, no one would have failed to sympathise with his dilemma. But he defied all expectations and lived for a further 55 years with this vicious and debilitating disease. He passed away on 14 March 2018.

What did he do with this time? Rather than sit and sulk, and count down the days until his demise, he shared how his diagnosis inspired him to get serious with his post-graduate scientific research. In 1988 he published ‘a Brief History of Time’ which was a best-seller. He bought cosmology and quantum physics to the masses, who showed their appreciation through book sales reaching several millions. In 2014, the film ‘The Theory of Everything’, based on the memoirs of his first wife, Jane Wilde, was released, starring Eddie Redmayne who won an Oscar for his lead performance.

Beyond all his academic and literary achievements, his family with a wife and three children who survive him, it could be said that his ‘will to live’ was his biggest achievement and legacy to the world. He is quoted as saying, “Although I cannot move and have to speak through a computer, in my mind I’m free.”

Every day the death culture in which we live seems to dish up another account of tragically life-sapping proportions. I was saddened by the news that a perfectly healthy 89-year old British woman had her application for physician-assisted suicide at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland accepted for the simple reason that she no longer felt she fit in to this modern, digital age. Yet another healthy 85-year old from Italy despaired of ageing and losing her looks, and so saw fit to end her life in the same way. These cases illustrate that people can be vulnerable for all kinds of reasons – skewed thinking, social alienation – but what it boils down to in all cases may be a failure to value the most precious gift we humans have – life. It is truly an anomaly that so many seem to lose it prematurely, struggle to hold on to it in the face of certain death whilst others toss it away so casually.

It is common knowledge that human beings have biological needs for food, water, and clothing as well as emotional needs to feel loved and valued; but what is usually overlooked is the spiritual need for hope. Human beings need hope as a plant needs water if they are to feel life is worth living. This factor is especially necessary during the challenging times of life, and will determine that we endure until the happy times come again. Happiness is not a prolonged continuum but comes in fits and starts when you least expect it. You might derive happiness from a succulent taste on your tongue, a sweet scent or a pleasant memory. It may come unexpectedly and pass just as quickly.

Our life’s purpose is not to be invented but discovered because we were conceived in the mind of our Creator – an act suffused with purpose. Discovering that purpose is not always straightforward, but it is safe to assume it already exists. The Bible is a life-affirming book which makes it clear from the onset that God regards each life as valuable and that value derives from God-given purpose. We are told that “all things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). It is not for us – God’s creation, to regard the life which He created (including ourselves) in a casual and indifferent way. The psalmist writes “I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

We can so easily fall into the trap of thinking that our life’s value is dependent on what we do, and what people think of us. For example, rich lists correlate peoples’ worth with their earnings. This attitude of being ‘self-made’ contradicts the inescapable truth that we do not will ourselves into existence. Something totally outside our limited understanding decided we should be conceived into existence a miracle indeed considering the overwhelming odds against conception. We are all walking miracles! It stands to reason therefore that since we did not determine the act or timing of our conception or birth, then why should wepresume to determine the type or timing of our own death. The journey of this earthly life is never easy and requires trusting the Creator from start to finish.

Yet, self-determination has become the order of the day. We are endlessly writing lists, planning our future and charting our own course. We cannot choose our own purpose, although many do try to chart their own course. The result is we can become prone to distress and disillusionment when things do not turn out the way we had planned. We can end up looking for meaning in many activities, achievements and relationships which were never meant to satisfy the deep longings of the human soul. If these things can make us happy, then it stands to reason that they also have the capacity to make us sad.

Many would agree that human life needs to be cherished from conception to its natural end. The Greek philosopher, Socrates, argued that human beings belonged to God, and therefore suicide was the destruction of God’s property. In his seminal work entitled The City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo made the logical case that the commandment “to love your neighbour as yourself” puts the “self” on par with the “neighbour”; consequently, whatever you wouldn’t do to your neighbour such as killing, you should also refrain from doing to yourself.

Today, the subject of suicide is no longer taboo. Prior to the revocation of section 1 of the Suicide Act 1967, suicide was against the law. Now the subject of suicide and assisted suicide hardly seems to raise an eyebrow. There have been many attempts to legalise assisted suicide in recent years in the UK. Although these attempts have failed so far, in the next parliamentary session a bill is likely to be introduced once again in the House of Lords. The view is now commonly held that those who kill themselves must be suffering from a mental or physical illness which so impairs their quality of life that life becomes unbearable. If suicide is made legal only in the case of terminal illness, this will surely be a slippery slope to allowing it on other grounds in the future.

Without knowing it, we have placed people in categories where some peoples’ lives are deemed more worthwhile than others. For example, those who are weak or disabled and who cannot contribute to society in the normal way, are regarded as a drain on society. Should such people decide to end their lives, this may not be deemed a great loss to society although the family and loved ones left behind will greatly mourn their absence. We easily forget the intangible qualities which people bring to their families and friendships. These cannot be adequately assessed in purely financial terms. Those who are contemplating suicide because they think their family and friends will be better off without them need to hear the survivors’ stories. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they are left with a never-ending trail of regret, sorrow and wounds which never heal. So much for the theory that our life is our own and has no impact on others! Society benefits from having to care for the weak, disabled and dependent because by so doing, we develop compassion and patience, and are reminded that we are inter-dependent beings meant to find our deepest satisfaction in communion with God and one another.

As we have seen with abortion and the delivery of poor elderly care, the erosion of the right to life always starts with the most vulnerable in society. Any barrier which is erected to stop such erosion must start with the foundation of the sanctity of human life without which human viability becomes subjected to the vagaries of human opinion. Such a society must be avoided at all costs.

Lessons From Bridgend

It is troubling when anyone commits suicide but even moreso the young who seem to have their whole lives ahead of them. The death of youth spells the death of promise and possibility. It seems cruelly ironic that whereas given the opportunity so many would like to have a another chance to relive their lives, there are those for whom life has barely begun yet who are willing to throw it all away. From January 2007 until February 2012, there have been seventy-nine suicides in Bridgend in North Wales, the victims ranging from 13-41. The town has quickly earned the reputation as a suicide hotspot. In journalists’ attempts to grab attention, they may be giving the wrong impression to any impressionable residents that the town is somehow cursed, and that for troubled youth who live there, they have no option but to take this fatal step.

We need a revival of community spirit whereby people look out for each other and become each other’s keepers. Secrets and lies always precede tragedy. When the communication lines between family members, neighbours and best friends become closed, issues become buried and not resolved.Individualism is the philosophy which is ruling the masses. We feel no sense of loyalty or accountability to God and significant others. That explains why a young girl could choose to die in a public park without the knowledge of her parents to be a discovered by a total stranger. 

Rather than viewing it as a medical problem, Durkheim (1897) saw suicide as caused by the failure of people to become adjusted to or integrated into society and to absorb its values and norms. As a result, he maintained, people with strong group ties are less likely to commit suicide. They are more sensitive to the standards and expectations of the group, including opposition to group dissolution and suicide, and more susceptible to the enforcement of those standards. It follows that an important deterrent to suicide by distressed or depressed people is involvement and identification with others. [Death, Dying and Bereavement]

Suicide solves nothing, it causes a domino effect of misery and grief. It’s painful enough for the family to have to deal with a sudden death, but to add to that the knowledge that their love, presence or companionship was not enough to forestall self-destruction, usually gives way to deep-seated feelings of guilt.

They will be left with a legacy of guilt, shame and ultimate rejection. It may well be that Dale Crole, who was the first of the seventeen suicide victims, unknowingly modelled a way of coping with problems that captured the imagination of a community of impressionable youngsters.

Modern living with its electronic and digital conveniences, excessive advertising and focus on affluent lifestyles of the rich and famous, has conditioned many to believe that a life with suffering is not worth living. We are not taught that suffering is a part of the human condition. Of course, there is a certain kind of suffering that is needless, but we cannot afford to fail our children and future generations by leading them to believe that life was meant to be easy. The flip side is that there is a sweet satisfaction that comes from struggling towards a worthy and self-determined goal. 

Nurturing The Will To Live

There are as many ways to live by one’s own choosing as there are to die by one’s own hands. The ICD-10(International Classification of Diseases, 10th edition) is more concerned with statistics on the means people employ to kill themselves such as firearms or overdose than why they choose to die by their own hands. Perhaps suicidologists and researchers should be more concerned with what motivates people to live rather than kill themselves. Most people would agree that a greater than average amount of will and determination is needed to kill oneself deliberately. Yet , on the flip side, most people are too willing to let life casually happen to them, not realising that choosing to live also requires will and determination, that is to truly live and not just exist.

There’s no doubt life can be difficult if not traumatic at times. Friends can betray you, love disappoint, your lack of confidence may leave you feeling powerless to change your situation such as bullying at school, rejection, overwhelming debt, an addiction you can’t seem to break. There will always be unpleasant circumstances human beings have to deal with, but why is it that one person will endure and overcome whilst another faced with similar circumstances, will lose heart and long for death. It is not the availability of means which determines whether people kill themselves, but rather the strength of will to self-destruct. One way of asking whether something is good or acceptable, is to ask yourself this question – what would happen if everyone behaved this way? If everyone decided to self-destruct when the going got tough, the following would occur:

  • Societies would stop developing. There would be no point in starting any big undertakings to improve society as the workforce would likely start dropping off
  • People would be grief-stricken because loved ones would be reeling from the non-stop loss of those they loved who did not see fit to share their inner pain and therefore allow them a chance to intervene.
  • There would be a perpetual cloud of gloom and doom hovering over societies.
  • The sale of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication would go through the roof, as people would take them as preventative measures, and insist that their loved ones do the same.
  • We would become afraid of our own emotions, and so in an effort to avoid difficult emotions, we would avoid situations which might engender them. People would therefore avoid risk and challenge, and would become emotional zombies.

Someone once wrote that you will not find your life worth living, but must make it so, and that requires all the ardour of which you are capable. Yes, that’s what’s needed in life – more not less enthusiasm. So, how can we nurture the will to live? Here are some tools:

Tool 1 -We can literally learn to fall in love with life itself. This means we ask little of life and ironically gain much in return. We do not set up unhelpful pre-conditions for our happiness – “I will be happy when…

  • I graduate
  • Get married
  • Get my dream job
  • Earn £…

Rather, we take perverse delight in the little things:

  • The wind in our hair
  • The taste of our favourite meal
  • When our head hits the pillow at night
  • A card from a friend

Tool 2 -Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain? Give examples from history of people who used impediments to their gain?

No doubt thoughts are whizzing round your head at uncontrollable speed with hypnotic repetition. You would do well to get them off your mind and on to paper, or share them with a responsible, impartial listener. Tell them how you want your life script to end i.e. what you want to achieve out of life

Tool 3 – Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

The practise of empathy or focusing all your energy on another human being besides yourself. Find an available person willing to talk with a pleasant voice. Engage him/her in conversation simply by asking them about how life is going for them. Focus on actively listening and ask periodic questions to clarify what they are saying.

Tool 4 – Positive self-talk

You are the one whom you spend all your time with. Friends and family only visit. They can’t get inside your head unless you let them in. but you live there. Is it a nice place to be? Record your voice on to a Dictaphone using the following script. Your mind may struggle to believe what you’re reading but pretend for a moment you are a highly paid actor. Assume a cheerful tone. Play the tape back to yourself at least three times a day:

  • “I am valuable to the world”
  • “I am loved”
  • “I am capable”
  • “I have a lot to offer”

Tool 5 -Serenity prayer

“God give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As long as you’re alive change is inevitable. Positive change requires effort, but effort need not be overwhelming. You can pace yourself – step by step, brick by brick. No doubt you feel life has been pushing and dragging you around, taking you to places, people and circumstances you don’t like. Write down all the things in your life you could change with effort.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. We did some trouble shooting today. You may need a helping hand. Help is out there – you just have to know where to look. Why rush into eternity. Why not give yourself a little more time to find some answers.

Let’s Not Dwell Too Much On Death

Those who are suicidal, in the vast majority of circumstances have considered their own death not just as a one-off, quick thought just before the act, but over and over again. They may reach the stage where they begin to experience anticipatory grief concerning themselves. It may then become a foregone conclusion that they must die. In the book ‘Dying, Death and Bereavement’, Lewis R. Aiken writes “death row inmates ‘think intensively about themselves and what it will be like when they are dead. Knowing that one is about to die results in …focusing on the self to such an extent that the person literally begins to mourn or grieve for himself.”[Schneidman, 1980c]

Every now and then our life will be interrupted by thoughts of death. There are those who are faced to deal with death more than others. They may deal with the dying and the dead on a daily business such as doctors and healthcare workers, fire-fighters, paramedics, funeral directors and pathologists and priests. Although they visit death in their minds, they should never linger there. Ironically, for most of these occupations, the focus is on preserving life, recovering life and health, and where that fails ensuring that the correct physical, legal and spiritual procedures are met to prepare the dead for burial, cremation and the afterlife.

Ultimately, life is short and for most of us comes to soon. We must focus on life for life is for the living. The down-hearted, grieving and sick can be helped by loved ones and well-wishers by re-directing their attention to the business of living. Where motivation is lacking to do so, then it may be necessary to go through the motions of getting out of bed, planning a special outing or event. We all need something to look forward to. The ultimate anticipation is the afterlife which is a never-ending state whereas all earthly sources of anticipation will ultimately come and go.

How can we make the mental adjustment to press on with living when our hopes have been dashed, we are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of a relationship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Remember that your loved one would want you to carry on and be happy
  • We do not fail until we stop trying
  • Manual labour which is repetitive such as weeding the garden, mopping the floor, polishing the silver, washing the car can act in a therapeutic way to take our attention off ourselves as well as impart a sense of achievement.
  • You may not think your life is worth living for yourself but you can make a world of difference to the life of someone else in need. Why not volunteer your time, skills to a charity.

Was Life Meant To Be Easy

Just to be born is worth celebrating. You beat tremendous odds just to make it out of the womb, but God knew you would make it. All that you are which makes you unique is there from conception -”From the instant of fertilization, that first single cell contains the entire genetic blueprint in all its complexity. This accounts for every detail of human development, including the child’s sex, hair and eye colour, height, and skin tone.”Randy Alcorn, Why pro-life? Caring for the unborn and their mothers (Sandy, Oregon: Eternal Perspective Ministries , 2004),34

God declares in His Word that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”; and so we should fear God who “knit us together in our mother’s womb” and live in awe and wonder at the miracle of ourselves as created beings. Spiritual life is also vital to appreciate and savour the joy of being alive, without which we are in danger of becoming the walking dead with all the medical vital signs of being alive such as breathing and heart pumping, but no real sense of purpose or why the need to go on living.

The sweetness is ironically in the struggle; a life without struggle is a shallow, hollow existence. We are privy to so many contrasting accounts of varying attitudes to life:

  • Cancer-stricken, terminally ill youngsters such as Stephen Sutton who would have given anything to be able to live;
  • Premature babies clinging on to life despite the odds
  • People so keen to end their lives they fly out to clinics in far off lands where it is legal to pay for doctor-assisted suicide.

These are reminders that often death comes quite unexpectedly.  The lesson is that life must never be treated with complacency, indifference or irreverence. It is a precious commodity which is terminal by nature, so why hasten its termination?

Suicide is now viewed by many as a legitimate means of escape from problems. Although life was not meant to be easy, we can rest assured that it was meant to be rewarding and fulfilling. So, it stands to reason that the degree to which we overcome its obstacles, is the degree to which we will experience fulfilment.

From an early age, we need to develop in ourselves and our children the backbone to cope with life’s vicissitudes, tragedies and heartaches. Each human being, provided he or she lives long enough, will eventually witness and experience these elements of being human – that life can be wearisome, lonesome and disappointing. We must teach them to accept these as ‘givens’, but also recognise that these make up some threads but not the whole garment. Without this acceptance, we fall prey to escapism, and end up retreating from reality instead of confronting it and dealing with it. People escape through all manner of pre-occupation such as entertainment, fiction novels, sports, relationships, legal and illegal drugs. Many of these things are not bad in of themselves, but if indulged in to excess, can mean you are essentially escaping from yourself – which means you are not really living. It is unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time. There are those who attempt to achieve this state artificially through light-hearted entertainment, drugs and alcohol or the endorphin rush of exercise addiction. If we hold these false expectations then we set ourselves up for constant disillusionment. The slightest failed expectation, for example, could tip us over the edge to a state of melancholy or a death wish. 

When young people are told that the sky is the limit or they can be anything they want to be, this sets them up for unrealistic expectations of life. We may think we are doing them a favour by being positive or bolstering their confidence. What they need most to hear is that:

  • “life won’t always be easy but each time you overcome something, you become a bit stronger and less fearful.”
  • “that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
  • “people can do things to us on the outside, but we get to decide the person we will be on the inside.”

Profile of a Misfit

A person who tries to conform, but finally throw up his or her hands in despair, painfully aware of having been condemned to a life-time of weirdness.  It is a weirdness which emanates from within, and may not be visible. Shall we give this misfit a name for the purposes of this genrall dexcription which is not gender specific. Let’s say the misfit’s name is Alan.

On the surface,he may seem normal, even average. But inside he knows something is wrong – he finds himself going through the motions of life but lacking  enthusiasm and never finding true fulfilment; he feels ill at ease in his own skin. He feels at variance with life. He just don’t seem to fit  – out of sync with the fashions, modern manners too abrupt, modern technology too obtrusive. If red is in vogue, he prefers yellow.

He rebels, ever so silently or sometimes blatantly. He might get a large tattoo, put purple streaks in his hair, , get nose rings, belly buttons pierced. He rebels against his parents, going into careers of which they would not approve. He takes a gap year, often repeatedly, to travel around the world, to find himself, to opt out of the rat race. But the truth is he was never in it to begin with. He switches careers before the going gets too tough. He looks forward to the luxury of a mid-life crisis so he can indulge in his angst. He always wants to be somewhere else, anywhere else but here. He doesn’t hang around for too long in relationships in case his“loved ones” diagnose him as the misfit that he is. He disappears for periods, when no-one in his life can track him down.

He may end up in mental asylums, rehab centres, a homeless hobo just wandering aimlessly through life. He may lose all sense of balance and become addicted to one thing or another. It’s a way of crowding out or escaping painful reality.

He sees being different in a world which emphasizes conformity at every turn, as a curse. The seeds of longing to be someone other than himself are first planted in his imagination which he indulges through fiction and make-believe. 

Finally he flirts with suicidal  – the promise of peaceful non-existence. But surely, there must be a better way.

Being Bi-Polar: the case of Kate Spade

The shocking death of Fashion designer, Kate Spade, on 6 June 2018, has meant that the world has lost a creative talent; her family – a wife, mother and more. The medical examiner has ruled that her death was by suicide – this heightens the tragedy of the loss of one so young for at 55, she was still in the prime of life. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to her family and friends. 

What has emerged in the news is that Kate was battling the demons of manic-depression. One of my friends and mentors suffered with this condition. I witnessed how she could be by turns, superhumanly energetic and productive and able to get by on a few hours sleep whilst also full of crippling self-doubt and despair…. 

Her sister has reportedly claimed that her suicide was not a surprise to her because she had noted her fixation on the news coverage of Robin Williams’ suicide in 2014.

She left a suicide note in which she reportedly begged her daughter not to blame herself. Of course, Kate spade loved her daughter, but her psychological pain was simply too intense and her judgement too clouded, to avert her final and fatal decision. In time, we hope, her daughter will figure out that it had nothing to do with her, and was all about her mother and what was going on in her head at that time. Sometimes we let ourselves down by thinking we have to have it all together all the time.

It is always better to let go of an image rather than reality – the reality of being alive. If you look at the central themes of her fashion creations – handbags and other accessories – it is one of optimism and fun. Yet, her reality must have been very different.

Her sister claims she did not seek the help she so desperately needed for fear of sacrificing this brand image which had made her famous. What the world can never tire of being reminded of is that celebrities too can have problems, as do we all, yet still bless the world with their talents. But her sister’s claims have been challenged, and we will never know whether or not she was in treatment.  

Perhaps, this is a wake up call to challenge our assumptions that certain privileged people have it all, and the others do not. The stark reality, as brought home to us by this tragic death, is that no-one has it all, and that we are all simply doing the best we can.