Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Dr strange loves ruined things

One of my strange loves is broken, ruined buildings, like the photographs I found to go along with this post. The imagining of what they once were is not so different from imagining what could become of broken lives. I think that is one part of what draws me to this work.

What happens when your belief system comes crashing down round about you or shifts beneath your feet? Maybe you believed the world was a just and fair place – then you lost your job. Maybe you believed in true love that would last forever – then your partner left you for someone else. Maybe you believed in the innocence of childhood – then some small person you care about was abused. Maybe you believed you were invincible – then you got physically ill or disabled. Maybe you believed all babies were perfect – then yours wasn’t. Maybe you believed in family – then yours broke. Maybe you believed in the natural order of things – then you had to bury your child. Maybe you believed the world was a safe place – then someone attacked you. Maybe you believed in the sanctity of life – then someone you loved ended theirs. Maybe you believed in the power of your own mind – then you lost it. What if you believed in yourself – then one day woke up and didn’t recognize yourself in the mirror?

What happens when the things we place our faith in begin to disintegrate or disappear? We can make a choice to continue to battle against the reality of our situation. This sounds something like the mantras of “it’s not fair” or “it shouldn’t be this way” or “there must be a way to fix this”. Another choice is to shut down our feelings and reactions and just “suck it up”, “stop whining and get on with it” or “pull yourself together”. Another choice is to fall apart, disintegrate and disappear along with our beliefs. For some people life’s situations are so overwhelming that life itself feels like it is no longer an option. Death becomes a choice, in fact, it becomes appealing.

In a state of heightened emotion or psychological trauma, cognitive function can shut down. Coping strategies and problem solving skills become impaired as the brain is overloaded with the stress hormone cortisol. Thinking becomes like the mental equivalent of running a marathon in a pantomime horse costume. The weight of death bears down like a blanket of metal chain-mail.

It is a dark place and yet, a flicker of life remains. The human instinct to live powers through our lifeblood. We will protect ourselves, to the death. We will fight off wild animals, attackers, the enemy with a rifle, fire, floods and tornadoes. We will find ways to stay safe. Indeed, this is the paradox which we label anxiety. When our fight, flight, freeze response, inbuilt for protection of life, goes into overdrive – this is often perceived as weakness. Anxiety and panic attacks paralyse and yet they are designed to protect our very lives.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique." Martha Graham

Anxiety, which some camps claim can be sorted with a dose of short-term therapy, is underestimated in its force to drive people to the brink of suicide. It is also one of the things that drives people to harm themselves - unbearable emotion. Self-harm is more often about trying to stay alive than to die. It is a perfect parallel with the process of suicide – to protect ourselves from pain. Because suicide offers a chance to kill the painful internal torture.

And yet, life flickers, in the darkness. Let’s not take our eyes off it.

Dr Murphy - signing off with gratitude for the wave of support I have received in my new venture (ps - pics are my own)


  1. Thoughtful piece. Sometimes it can be hard to be non-judgemental regarding the anxieties of others but so important to validate their experience and deal with what is, rather than what anyone else thinks. The awful feeling that you get when crippled with anxiety and some well meaning friend says, "It will be fine-it's not THAT bad" or words to that effect, can cast you down beyond that little light you're trying to keep your eyes on. I was musing on the will to survive last week. There was something on FB which pointed out that, at the point of reading the post, the reader had a 100% record of actually getting through the day even in extreme difficulty and distress. We can be strong even in what we perceive as weakness.

    1. Thanks Berhaud - I agree that when we only offer a superficial understanding of each other's pain and distress, it adds to those wounds and invalidates our personal experiences. Anxiety is the human spirit fighting for survival - it's just that our system gets out of sync sometimes. Marie