Here’s a terribly sad piece from a woman who wishes she’d died at the same time as her husband. 14 years after his death her life, she feels, remains pointless without him.
Grief is a complicated, difficult process that we all will have to go through at least once in our lives. Elizabeth Kubler Ross proposed a model of grief that has been misunderstood as a linear journey, from one stage to another to another until we come out refreshed and sorted out in ‘Acceptance’. If you’ve been though grief you’ll know that a more accurate model, and one that Kubler Ross herself advocated, was more of a spiral where over a matter of years we revisit the stages of grief experiencing them as more or less painful depending on the circumstances. An anniversary is bound to be more poignant that most other days, and if that anniversary falls during a time when you’ve lost your home you may experience it as catastrophic. Alternatively, being under urgent stress, you may forget entirely about it.
There’s been some controversy over the DSM understanding of grief, whether it’s a mental illness or a normal human experience, and people from both sides of the argument have interesting, useful things to say. I wonder how it is, though, for this woman who still feels that her life is wasted because her husband isn’t with her? I don’t have any answers for her in particular, not least because she’s not asked me for any, but I think it’s likely that a person in a fugue of loss might be experiencing complicated grief, something absolutely as debilitating as a chronic physical illness.
Counselling can help and there are a number of specialist agencies that can help with specific kinds of loss. It may be that a person who experiences, say, bereavement because of suicide would see a counsellor who specialised in being with people bereaved by suicide and then a few years later a general bereavement counsellor and some time later still a body psychotherapist and then want to return to a suicide specialist. Like the stages of grief, we will revisit our bereavements over the years. But we’re not doomed to live there.
Phobias and the ensuing panic attacks are horrendous. If you have a phobia you’ll know just what ‘horrendous’ means and if you don’t it’s very unlikely that you’ll have any understanding of what being in the grip of a panic attack is like. You’ll have read that people feel like they’re dying when they have a panic attack but what does that really mean?
Christopher Hitchens couldn’t believe that waterboarding was all that awful. Be honest, you know that if you just stay calm and control your breathing you can blow the water out of your nose and breath in carefully through your mouth and you’ll cope with what is called ‘simulated drowning.’ Because you know it’s not drowning. Hitchens lasted 10 seconds when he volunteered for the experience. This is similar to a phobia induced panic attack – if everybody just keeps calm and rational then everything will be fine. But the definition of a phobia is that it is an irrational fear i.e. it cannot respond to logic.
Take half an hour and listen to this, a very thorough exploration of phobias and their treatment.
It was heartening to hear Professor Paul Salkovskis, after a number of face to face sessions in his office, accompanying Susie to a tube station, down the escalator, onto the platform, into a train and travelling on it then out in another station and back up to street level, where she was elated, proud, excited and had made serious inroads to curing her phobia. This technique is called flooding and it takes much more than the 50 minutes of the therapeutic hour.
(It is also something to be done with care, consent, compassion and frequent checking to see if the consent still stands. It is NOT locking an arachnphobe in a room of spiders, no matter what some webpages say. They confuse the torture of Room 101 from the novel 1984 with a therapeutic technique.)
Prof Paul Salovskis is Professor of Clinical Psychology and Applied Science. He is also Clinical Director of the Maudsley, the UK’s preeminent mental health hospital. Not many of us are going to meet him. One of the reasons why CBT has a 30% success rate is that it’s not done completely by someone who has the authority to go outside of an office. Too many people, often at the end of their tether, are left stranded and feeling hopeless after their allocated 6 sessions (5 hours over 6 weeks) when what they needed was complete, skilled work rather than a ‘computer says no’ approach to mental health.
I’m absolutely not suggesting that you don’t take advantage of CBT if it’s offered to you. But approach it rigorously: ask if the sessions are limited. Ask if flooding is part of the therapy and precisely what that means to the therapist. As Susie says at the end of the programme, addressing a phobia can be hard work: part of that might be resisting what’s on offer until what’s on offer is based on therapeutic principals rather than cost.
So the Able Bodied Olympics are over and weren’t they great? Medals and lots of them, a general lack of rain and a lot of goodwill have given us two weeks holiday from economic misery. But I think there’s something more to it than that.
G4S, who were going to staff the Olympics, couldn’t fulfill their contract. This is the privately owned company that dumped unpaid staff under a bridge overnight in the rain the day before the Jubilee celebrations. The company soaked up unemployed people to work for no pay for an extended period of time with the intent of putting a majority of them back on the dole after the Olympics. So the Army took over the majority of Olympic security at short notice. On the night this was announced the news showed an aerial view of the stadium with soldiers walking around it and I was struck by a simple movement that one of the soldiers made: as he was approached by a civilian the soldier moved towards him and leaned forward in a gesture of confident, competent service.
The picture at the head of this post by David Hoffman is of a G4S Olympic security guard acting in an 'illegal and oppressive' manner. We’ve all been on the end of petty people in uniform, people who are evidently bored with their job and would like you to know that you will pay for their tedium because they’re wearing a uniform and you’re not. You give them what they consider A Funny Look and you’ll spend a lot more time getting where you need to be or doing what you need to do. They can be a monstrous pain and downright dangerous.
They’re also paid a pittance by the private companies that employ them and treated with contempt by their bosses. If I was dumped under a bridge in the middle of the night in the rain, without a toilet or breakfast, with no pay and the knowledge that if I told my boss to go boil his head I would be sanctioned by the DWP which would leave me literally penniless for some weeks, then I would be incredibly happy to give someone – anyone – a hard time if they gave me the slightest opportunity. That said, many are 'overly enthusiastic' about their jobs as a matter of personality.
Happily, the army doesn’t go down that route anywhere near as often as private security groups. People volunteer to join the army, a respected career, and that’s a huge difference to start with, but perhaps the biggest difference is that the army indoctrinates soldiers into the concept of service. These men and women are trained to kill and to balance that incredible force they’re taught to approach their job through a filter of being of benefit to people, of serving a population rather than seeing people as the thing that gets in their way. I’m not a person that joins in with the sentimental noise about Our Boys – particularly since so many Boys are women – but the fact that the army went about bag searches and general safety measures with dignity rather than cockiness, pleasantness rather than tedium and confidence rather than a jobsworth attitude seems to have made a lot of people feel very safe and very happy, rather than abused and infuriated.
Then there were the Olympic volunteers, whose attitude seemed to be one of pleasure, competence, effectiveness and cooperation. They didn’t wear a pseudo-military uniform complete with little black hat, but something that clearly identified them so that people could ask for help. They weren’t schooled in impersonal standoffishness, but allowed to be themselves.
I was frankly astonished at how many ordinary people, from all kinds of backgrounds, all ages, all ethnicities, volunteered to show people where the toilets were, and did it with grace and humour.
They are called ‘Gamesmakers because they are helping make the Games happen. We want Games Makers to be inspirational, open, respectful, team-focused, distinctive and have a 'can do' attitude.”
There is a part of every one of us that would like to put on a uniform and boss people about, perhaps even to abuse them. Fewer of us would accept the cost of being sent to a desert to be shot at but that is part of the price of legitimising power. Most of us are born with the awareness that altruism makes everyone’s life better, including our own, but we are steadily taught that ‘Being nice gets you nowhere.’ Perhaps that depends on where we want to go.
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