How well do you truly know yourself?
I went to see the Ivor Browne documentary, ‘Meetings with Ivor’, on Monday night and it really was quite remarkable. Two things struck me most of all – how much sense it made, how simple, logical and profoundly life changing his methods are, but also how, if I had not experienced it myself, albeit with someone else, I would find it almost impossible to believe.
Had I seen that film a year ago, I would have walked away feeling... Well any number of things really. Anger. Disbelief. A sense of deep failure within myself. But I think predominantly anger, because I would have known that he was wrong. It couldn’t possibly be so simple.
And yet, it really is. My life has changed so dramatically in the last three months that I genuinely haven’t been able to keep up. From the outside, nothing is different. I’m still out of work. I’m still taking medication. I’m still attending psychiatry, and ostensibly being treated for a mental illness. But on the inside?
I feel like I’m waking up, that my whole life up to this point has been almost in a trance. I’ve been following the path that society sets us on, unquestioningly. I’ve been looking back at every difficulty I’ve experienced, everything that went wrong, and believing wholeheartedly that it was my fault, that I was deficient in some way.
Throughout the documentary, we see a series of people meeting with Ivor – among them Tommy Tiernan, Sebastian Barry, Nell McCafferty, Tom Murphy and Mary Coughlan. In each interview, his attention, his focus on the person he’s talking to, is absolute. He sees them, who they really are, and what’s more, he wants to see them. There’s such power in that. We see him taking Mary Coughlan back to when she was really young, enabling her to find memories she didn’t know were there.
We see the intensity of the emotion those memories hold, emotion that Mary has been carrying her entire life. Later, we see her recognise how profoundly those memories, those frozen moments, have impacted on and shaped her entire life.
It occurred to me this morning while thinking about what I was going to write that that’s what I need to do, for me. I need to go back and meet myself at each difficult stage in my life. I need to look at what was going on around me, at the circumstances I found myself in, at the beliefs I held about myself, and then I need to completely rewrite my understanding and perception of my past.
I want to know why I was so scared of getting things wrong in primary school, why the strongest memories I have are rooted in fear and anxiety. I want to know why I was so ashamed of being seen alone in secondary school, why I believed myself so inferior to my peers. I want to know why I persisted with a degree that I knew wasn’t right for me, why I stayed in UCD despite considering dropping out on several occasions, why I turned to alcohol to try and fit in.
I want to know why I found the early years of motherhood so desperately lonely and difficult, and how I ended up getting to the point of being given an extreme psychiatric diagnosis, of believing that self-harm and ultimately suicide were valid, logical and perfectly reasonable options.
Alongside all of this, I want to find something else. I want to find the source of the strength that kept me going through all of this. No more than Mary, I want to find the happy memories that must be there too.
How am I going to do this? I’m going to have a series of meetings with myself. I’m going to think. It’s what I’ve been doing with my psychologist for the last 3 months, but it’s taken a while for the understanding to finally sink in. ‘Meetings with Ivor’ was the final nail in the coffin of my old beliefs about myself and about mental health difficulties.
I realise how very far left of centre this sounds, and I know there are many people who will be as angry and dismissive on reading this as I would have been a year ago. I know people will believe that I’m deluded, that I’m sick, and I understand that. I’m not trying to persuade anyone to change their minds, that’s not in my power.
All I want to do is present an alternative point of view, a different way of thinking, and I’m offering myself as evidence of the possibility that there is another way of dealing with mental health problems. To quote Ivor himself, ‘The future of mental health must lie in the empowerment of the person’. That’s the gift I’ve been given, and the gift I want to pass on.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information at www.yourmentalhealth.ie