Saturday, 28 October 2017

Faith in humanity restored to factory settings

So I had a bit of a wake up call last week. I realised that much of what I write about is on the darker side. Part of me thrives on that, but I don't think I've spent enough time thinking about the beams of light that shine out in the darkness. I felt the full force of that when I was attending a suicide prevention trainers conference in Canada recently.

I had the honour to meet and spend some time with Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn. Yes, ironic that I should go all the way to Canada to meet a couple of English blokes. If the names sound familiar, it is because they are the men behind the story of the Stranger on the Bridge (link at the end). Short story, Neil finds Jonny on the Waterloo Bridge in London one morning, planning to end his life. Neil talks to Jonny and a transformation takes place, which results in Jonny's turning point towards life. Years later Jonny tracks Neil down to say thank you and the pair are now working together to raise awareness. Of course, there's much more to it than that, so watch their story. It is moving, powerful and inspiring.

I'd like to share what hearing their story meant to me. I spend a lot of time listening to other people's pain, listening to the terrible things that have happened to them and the terrible things that other people have done to them. It's fair to say that gives me a somewhat jaded opinion of the human race. It gives me a stark awareness of the ugly side of humanity and the devastation that other people can inflict - sometimes intentional, often not. Of course, I also see people's incredible ability to survive these things and am continually fascinated by human beings' creative ways of making their way through the most horrendous events. But essentially it is impossible not to think about the evil that men do - to each other.

This brings me to what touched me most about Jonny and Neil's story. I've spent a huge chunk of my life talking about suicide, helping people understand it, teaching them what to do, helping others deal with their thoughts about suicide. But Neil was just a 23 year old bloke. He hadn't been on training courses, or worked in mental health, or spent years stuck in psychology books. He just knew what to do. He maybe didn't feel like it at the time, but what he said and what he did made a difference. It saved someone's life. It saved Jonny's life. He was just a human being who saw the flicker of life force in another human being.

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” 

I was 30 when I lost my best friend to suicide. She wasn't a stranger. I talked to her all the time. I knew she was struggling, but I still didn't know how to help her. I know very well that it's much more complicated, but still all these years later, I wish and I wonder. Sitting in a room, with tears streaming down my face, listening to Neil and Jonny - I was the most humbled I have ever felt. I have this image in my head of two life forces being drawn to each other - the universe propelling them together. And it gives me hope. It makes me believe again that humans can be amazing, selfless, compassionate, courageous, instinctive and incredible. And yes, it does even up the balance of light and darkness in the world.

Jonny has the most incredible force of courage inside him. He shares his story and the raw humanity is palpable. The shadows of shame that have long cloaked mental health issues visibly falls away when talks. His determination to find the man who didn't have to stop that day is a part of the story that has touched the lives of millions of people - their story went viral and it has spread throughout the world. It reminds all of us that we can never really know the full implications of our actions.

Bonus - Jonny and Neil are top blokes. Funny, smart, sharp and interesting as well as brilliant advocates for mental health awareness. If you ever get a chance to go hear them talk - take it. They are transforming the world around them with every step, everywhere they go. They both have some really important things to teach all of us.

Humbled and in gratitude. Signing off Dr M.

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