10 years ago today I found the body of one of my closest friends and allies – Susan. Another casualty of a mental health system ill equipped to support voice hearers overwhelmed by past traumas, Susan died before she fully found her wings. Under the circumstances it seems strangely poignant that I’m writing this whilst watching the sun set 40,000 feet above the Indian Ocean. It’s safe to say, my life has quite literally now taken flight.
I hadn’t planned to be alone on this anniversary, but in a way I’m glad I am. I’ve always struggled with the way life moves forward, stretching the distance between lost loved ones until there’s only a tiny thread linking our lives together. Initially I wanted the world to freeze, to stand still. I needed something cataclysmic to mark her passing. A decade later, I have a pragmatic acceptance of the facts of life and death. Still, as a dear friend once said to me ‘you don’t grieve less, you grieve less often’).
I owe Susan a debt of gratitude – she taught me a lot. I know that if she is part of the ether, able to look down on me, she’d be cheering. We began our training careers together. Chris, our Hearing Voices Group facilitator, first co-opted us into sharing our experiences with his third year clinical psychology students. Whilst we were both nervous, I remember chatting it through with together afterwards. We were both amazed that people wanted to hear our stories. More than that, we recognised that they treated us with respect and felt that we could teach them something. It was a new feeling – something worth all the nerves we felt beforehand.
Years later, here I am up in the air. I feel a strange mix of lucky and sad. Given what I know of Susan’s story, I have little doubt she was a fellow dissociative survivor. This week, I felt privileged to run a course that I wished all of her supporters had access to years ago – demystifying dissociation and psychosis. It’s bittersweet, but – like we hoped – we’re part of the change. Me, in being lucky enough to have these wonderful opportunities to share inspiration and ideas across the world. Susan, in helping light the spark that set me on this course in the first place.
Hearing Voices Groups are a community. Each of us contribute to one another’s sense-making as we weave the tangled strands of experience into a cohesive picture. Some of those pictures are, like Susan’s, sadly left unfinished. Still, my life would not be what it is today without Susan and all the other group members. As it stands today, my tapestry is continually evolving as I discover new threads and carry on the work of sense-making alongside new friends and allies.
In the last decade I’ve felt more pain and grief than I would have thought I could take. I’ve come to recognise my strength, alongside my vulnerability. I’ve connected with parts of me that – in childhood – I lost along the way. Hard as it has been, I have woven a more beautiful and complex picture than I’d ever imagined. Susan, with her stubbornness, humour and care is a necessary part of this. If I’ve ever connected and shared inspiration with you, I’m thankful to say that you are part of it too.
What started out as an isolated expression of grief has transformed into a recognition of interconnectivity (inside and out).
Life can be hard, it can also be good. Better than that, all in all it’s awesome.
This evening, as the sun finally goes down over Indonesia – I find myself looking to the future and wondering where else it will take us.