Friday 11 August 2017

Our Fragile State

Please note: this post deals with a topics we often avoid - suicide and depression. 
Please discontinue reading if this is confronting.

If you need help please contact one of the many organisations that offer support.

Beyond Blue
Lifeline Australia Crisis support and suicide prevention
Queensland Health

Pink Roses & Mirrors - oil on canvas 500 mm x 900 mm 

We are fragile. So very fragile. We live with such high expectations. We have high expectations of others but more particularly, we have high expectations of ourselves. When we don't match up to those lofty ideals it's easy to berate ourselves and feel that we are failing.

Sometimes this self criticism, self loathing even, takes over and we fall into a bottomless dark pit. We see no escape. 

This week I watched Australian Story. It was an episode entitled The Bridge and had a very personal connection. Usually TV programmes are about others, people far removed from me, people that I don't know. This time it was different. The story was about someone I know, someone who serves on the same committee as I do. 

I realised immediately that I didn't  really know her. My knowledge was limited to superficial knowledge. I didn't know her back story at all. It made me realise that in our daily dealings with others we ought to remember that they often have a life we know nothing about. A life with problems and struggles in spite of their seemingly normal attitude.

Five years ago, my friend, a high achiever, was struggling to cope at work. She felt that she was failing, and was not living up to the standards required of her. In a very short time, only about ten days, she came to the decision that everyone, including her small two year old son, would be better off without her. She walked over the Story Bridge in Brisbane and jumped.

Against all odds, she was seen by a passing ferry as she was about to go under. The ferry captain came alongside and a deck hand pulled her out of the water. She was alive. A miracle. 
Today she has reclaimed and rebuilt her life. Thankfully she is now in a good place.

As I watched the story unfold, what struck me so forcibly was the rapid disintegration of her state of well being. From coping with work and achieving her goals, from being in control, the drop to utter despair took a few short days. We are so fragile it doesn't take much to take us to the brink.

I write this as a reminder, to myself as much as a reminder to you to look to the people around you. We don't know their struggles. We don't know their despair. 

We can only be aware, be kind, and to listen.

If you live in Australia, I urge you to watch the episode. You can see a replay on  ABC iView. 

If you need help please contact one of the many organisations that offer support.
Beyond Blue
Lifeline Australia Crisis support and suicide prevention
Queensland Health

Monday 7 August 2017

Looking back - September 2010

In September 2010 I wrote about a memorable visit to Philanjalo, a hospital in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. Philanjalo means live longer. My sister and I visited a relative who was a doctor at the hospital. We were able to find out about the lifesaving work undertaken there. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Philanjalo - live longer

The countryside is dry, dry, dry. There are rocks, dried aloes, and dry earth. There is no grass to speak of – what
there is has been turned to stubble by the goats. No rain has fallen since April this year. The streams and rivers are collections of boulders – there is no sign of water. All my photographs have a haze –a dust haze that coats the land-scape. The sky will only clear when rain has washed the sky.  
Tugela Ferry mountains
I spent last weekend in Tugela Ferry in rural Kwa Zulu Natal, one of the poorest regions in the whole of South Africa.Along the road we pass children with 20 litre containers of water on their heads or in wheelbarrows - if they’re lucky. They get water from pumps at the roadside and then have to transport it back to their homes often kilometers away. We are greeted with smiles and friendly waves – so cheerful in spite of extreme poverty.
Carrying water home

My contact there, a doctor working at Philanjalo, showed us around. Philanjalo – meaning live longer - was started as a hospice for aids patients.The local people have a very high incidence of MDR TB – multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis and XDR TB, coupled with an HIV AIDs infection rate of about 50%, making it exceptionally difficult to treat the disease.With the outbreak of the TB epidemic TFCARES set up the clinic as a research station.Doctors from all over the world come to Tugela Ferry to do research into MDR TB and XDR TB.Now the emphasis at the clinic is on ARV treatment - treating the side effects of HIV Aids. I was struck by how clean and efficient everything was – and the cheerfulness of both patients and staff in spite of the enormity of the problems 

faced. Philanjalo works in conjunction with the Church of Scotland Hospital and provides both clinic and

On Saturday a trip to Msinga Hill was proposed. Oh dear, I thought, not mountain climbing! Not at all - there is a road to the very top. The purpose of the road  

became all too clear with the incongruous presence of a cell phone mast. 

Msinga Hill Rocks
From the top of Msinga Hill we could see patches of green along the Tugela River – the lifeblood of the area. 

Community Gardens along the Tugela River

Violent inter- faction fighting previously wracked Tugela Ferry.  However, life now seems more peaceful – perhaps fighting poverty, MDR TB and HIV Aids is enough of a challenge for the people of this village.
To give you an idea of the value of the work done by these marvellous doctors and nurses, I quote from an email I received from the doctor we visited:
“The patient that I had to treat yesterday and who I thought would die, when I saw him today, he is sitting up in 
bed, eating and chatting to his relatives.   Miracle”