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Personal Victory. Friday May 27, 2016

"There comes a time," my mother said, "when you go to many more funerals than weddings."

She was right. These days I find myself reading obituaries because these days the names actually mean something to me.

Sally Brampton is one such name. Because my day job is all about clothes and fashion I recognised the name of the woman who was the first UK editor of Elle Magazine, and later Red.

What I didn't know was that she struggled with depression for much her life and that eventually this caused her death by drowning.

Her obituary contained a brilliant quote from her 2008 book Shoot the Damn Dog. "Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer," she wrote. "We don't kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long hard struggle to stay alive."

Which brings me onto some more wise words, this time written by a fellow writer and blogger, Chuck Wendig, in his recent blog Winning, Losing, And Participating: Shut Up About the Trophy. In this blog he attacks the grumpy people (among the ranks of whom I was recently included) who cry,

"You shouldn't just get a trophy for participating. When everyone gets a trophy, nobody wins. If everybody is special, nobody is special."

And yes – the grim reality is that in life there are winners and there are losers. We remember the people who get the Olympic gold medal, not the also rans.

But you can bet that if your friend got as far as even competing in the Olympics you'd be proud of him/her. You would remember that achievement – even if no medal was brought home. We remember our local heroes. They are special to us.

The other reality is that, without participation, then there is no victory for anyone. Losing means rejection but, as Chuck says, "Participation is everything. And rejection is vital to that. Rejection is a battle scar. It's proof I'm in the arena. It's two gladiators showing off their injuries: "I GOT THIS ONE WHEN I FAILED... I LOST THE FIGHT THAT DAY, BUT I HAVE THIS COOL SCAR TO SHOW FOR IT. AND I LIVE TO FIGHT AGAIN." Rejection (failure) is a sign of doing the thing and surviving."

Many of us have days of frustration and failure. We have tasks we have failed to accomplish; relationships that have floundered; jobs we have lost and a list of rejections as long as your arm.

I recently wrote about becoming perfect. It's a process which often feels like failure. Chuck's slant on this is, "Get shut of the illusion that winning is everything, participation is nothing, failure is the end. Failure is more important to us than victory. You will fail a lot more than you win, and you learn a lot more when you lose — you don't improve through victory. Victory is a plateau. You improve by capitalizing on your loss."

But if we're still here, still alive, that's our very personal victory. Tomorrow we fight again.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Beth Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 6:55am

"Ever tried, ever failed, no matter. Try again, fail again, fail better" Samuel Beckett

Salt Water Mum Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 7:00am

Oh Mary I am completely shocked to read that Sally Brampton has died. I am a huge fan of hers. Her book 'shoot the damn dog' is beside my bed. I read it a while back but I still keep it there as it made such an impact on me. And I read her every month in my treat-to-me magazine Pyschologies - she has the very last page of the msg and I always read her first.
I am so sad. She has a daughter I know and I think three ex husbands, one of whom she's very close to still. And her dear close female friends. She writes so honestly and wittily - about depression and parenting and being a woman and the struggle of this living business. Oh to walk into the sea.
The poor lovely woman.
'We're still here, still alive, that's our personal victory' - you're right Mary. I really feel that too right now this very minute.


Still picking figs Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 9:04am

I was at a party recently and commented on a group of women who were giving it their all on the dancefloor. My friend, the birthday girl, said they were here cousins. She pointed out that one of them had prosthetic feet. A couple of years before, she too had walked into the sea to end her life, but the sea tossed her back to shore, time and time again. She ended up wandering the beach, taking shelter in a sort of ditch, laying there for days until she was discovered by a dog walker. It was winter and damage had occurred to her limbs. Her feet were amputated as a result. This story was told to me so matter of factly. I was simply awestruck. What a remarkable story and an amazing woman. I thought about her for a long while after.

Vincent Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 7:05am

Mary, I always enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for the inspiring words.

Hopeful One Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 7:35am

Hi Mary- so so so sad when I heard the news about Sally Brampton's passing away. She used to write an Agony Aunt article in the weekend magazine of the Saturday Times at about the same time as I was going through my depression. She gave me some great tips on how she was dealing with her's which helped me enormously. I have also read her lovely book " Shoot the damn dog"

The Squadron as one knows prefers to laugh rather than cry -if there is a choice. But the Squadron also has a serious side which it wants to display today with this poem which I think applies to Sally.

Invectus- a poem written by William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
Foe my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud.
Under the bludgeons of chance
My head is bloody,but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am a master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul

Debs Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 7:39am

I opened my email this morning thinking 'haven't heard from Mary for a while' and there you were! Synchronicity. I heard about Sally a day or so after it happened and immediately burst into tears. It was just too close to home. She has always been my beacon of hope and now she's gone. For a while I made it mean I was doomed, that I may as well give up... but then I realised I would never do that. And I stopped for a minute to recognise how far I've come in this depression journey. And it's a long way. We should all recognise ourselves more, we are brave and tenacious and so incredibly strong in the face of mental illness and that in itself is a person victory. We give each other hope in the dark times and we celebrate the light and that to me is a win worth celebrating. xxx

Julia Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 8:24am

Maybe you missed Wednesday's blog??

Anonymous Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 9:03am

Hi Debs. it's good to see your name (that wasn't me btw, the Julia above. It's odd when my name appears and it's not me!!) As you know I am Anonymous now and Julxx. Sally Brampton walked into the sea near where we live. I can't imagine how she must have felt. I love the last two lines of Hopeful One's poem today. Are you OK? Julxxx

A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 1:09pm

Debs, Sally was an amazing person to touch as many people as she did, but there are other beacons of hope. I heard the writer Marian Keyes speak recently just after I'd decided to give up working in suicide bereavement and was feeling a little guilty that I was putting my own need to move away from this specific role (because it was partly a way of trying to explain my husband David's actions to others) ahead of the positive work I felt I'd done. Marian was talking about the couple of years she had when she just wanted to kill herself every day and yet she endured. The very important message I heard - apart from what she said - was that she was speaking about suicidal impulses in a very matter-of-fact way and in so doing breaking down barriers and making it easier (I hope) for those who suffer from them to live with such difficult thoughts and see it was possible to survive through them. It was a huge sense of relief knowing that I don't need to speak on behalf of a dead person anymore, because articulate, funny, clever women like Marian (and you Mary) are doing this so well. I actually spoke with her afterwards outside on the street to thank her for what she'd said. She gave me a hug. Lovely person. Very real. As are you Mary. Thanks for all you do, I thought I'd lost my ability to write, but your blog on suicide all those months ago helped set me free to write here and thus find my own voice.

A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 1:26pm

Can I just clarify one thing, when I say speak on behalf of a dead person, that although yes, my husband sadly died of his illness, something like 97% - it's a really high statistic - survive suicide attempts, and so I see being able to speak about it, like you do particularly Mary, is more powerful in a way that when I was doing it, because you own it quite openly, reducing stigma and thus hopefully finding it easier for the 97% to find help and for their families/professionals to understand their illness more. I'm sorry you have to deal with it, really sorry, it's so debilitating, but thanks, just thanks that you do; that you endure.

Anonymous Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 3:35pm

Hello AVFTFS. I have read your comments twice now so that I don't miss anything. I may be wrong here but what stuck me from what you write today is the possibility that those who unsuccessfully try to commit suicide and those who have suicidal thoughts but do nothing are better able to talk on behalf of those who are actually successful in ending their lives, better able then those who have had partners end their lives but who themselves have never contemplated suicide, like yourself? So you have said that you can now hand the subject over to people like Marian Keys and Mary amongst other suicide survivors as they possibly (and here I may be wrong..)know more keenly about the subject and what goes on in a suicidal mind?? If I am right, you could feel very liberated now AVFTFS? It must have been such a struggle trying to understand and maybe impossible which was a major part of your struggle. Love Julxxx

A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 6:22pm

Hi Jul, I'd say they're differently able, because they're speaking from personal experience. I can speak from the carer's perspective. I saw close up what David was going through - it was like Groundhog Day. For a long period before everything overwhelmed him and he went off sick for the last time (a year before he actually died), he'd wake up feeling suicidal, get up, go to work, feel gradually better as the day went on, feel almost normal by the evening, do the usual family things, then crave sleep, but often dread it too, because the next morning he'd wake up and the suicidal thoughts were there again centre-stage in his frontal lobes. It wasn't constant like that, there were fluctuations, but that was the general downward pattern. For just getting out of bed with all the canker growing in his head (that no drug or treatment seemed to treat), the man deserved an award, which is why I get very cross with people who say he was a coward for doing what he did. In terms of feeling liberated, yes I do, because one of the hardest things of being a carer (particularly during the stage where he was going down and wasn't properly diagnosed) was the isolation - no-one else really had any idea of quite how bad it was. And just writing here breaks down that wall of isolation a bit more. I also feel liberated because before although I've spoken to groups of professionals, I've always been 'the bereaved one', here I feel as though I'm among my peers. I have gone through up and down points in my life - and I am going to blog about that at some point too. I don't see Mary and Marian as any different from myself; we're all on a continuum, I'm just lucky enough to have got help as a teenager, which gave me the building blocks to sustain me through the difficult times. Does that make sense? Thank you for asking.

A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 6:45pm

One quick last thing as I didn't address the point about Mary/Marian and handing over the baton. Prior to the grief ambush I'd thought of getting more involved in advocating for those who don't die of their attempts, because I hear how people are treated and it's often not good. Also someone I really respect was thinking of doing a PhD on near suicides, and had asked me to be on her experts team (or whatever it's called) to help decide the parameters etc., I really wanted to do it, but when the Wise Woman said drop everything, she meant that too. Successful, sassy women like the 2 Ms mean I don't have to fulfil that function. I can just live with my own experience, not extrapolate to theirs. I hope this isn't too much information everybody. Off outside now to empty the car of alcohol! AVFTFS

Mary Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 11:25pm

And Debs: I'm still here. Most Wednesdays in fact! This is a bonus one!

Anonymous Sat, May 28th 2016 @ 7:52am

Hi AVFTFS. I was about to reply to this last night but was interrupted. Thank you for explaining this. You are so articulate and caring you must have helped so many people. You are helping us now. Just to read your thoughts and to see how far you have come and how your mind works in trying to move on or accept what happened to David,thinking of it in such positive rational terms is a lesson to us all here.You should continue to write about it if you feel like it. We in Moodscope support each other (as you know!). We mostly have experienced different life events but ultimately, they all boil down to one thing, suffering.. and consequently compassion for others. Have a nice weekend. Hope to hear form you again soon Julxxx

Rupert Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 8:22am

Brilliant blog Mary and I loved the quote from poor Sally it's so true! I often wonder what it would be like to be "normal" and imagine having so much more energy and life in me without having to constantly battle the demons. Rupert

Salt Water Mum Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 8:49am

Oh Debs that was my reaction exactly at 6.30 this morn when I read Mary's blog and heard that Sally B was dead. I thought the same as u did initially - I am doomed too. If someone so wise and intelligent and clever and successful can't make it, then what hope is there for me???
But yes - I wouldn't I couldn't - my children are small and I quite simply adore them and maybe I have hidden strengths, maybe I can battle this and keep going day at a time - hour at a time some days.
I am strong.
I am resilient.
I will walk into the sea but I will swim and I will return.

Sorry, this has really thrown me for some reason.


A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 6:26pm

Have you thought Salt Water Mum that you might be experiencing a little grief ambush? I look forward to your return. Hugs xxx

Lisa Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 11:15am

Thanks for the blog Mary,
I like the part were you say that even though we remember the winners if our own friend was a contestant we'd be proud and never forget. That is so true
I am also so sad to hear of Sally's death -she was such an inspiration to so many.
If we recognise mental health as being on an equal footing with physical health there must be times when all treatments, interventions and self-help are unable to cure or palliate symptoms adequately which is tragic but true.
Thankfully, for most of us with physical or mental health issues there are huge amounts of treatment that will help and heal and our hearts go out to those who get to the end of that journey x

Richard Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 11:27am

Thank you, Mary. Another thoughtful and heartfelt blog.
Peace & Love,

Otir Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 2:33pm

I always find it very difficult when we learn of the death of someone who succumbed to suicide. When I learned of Sally's death - a couple of weeks ago, I guess I am too connected to this world of news cycle, as I was not related to her whatsoever - it is a big trigger for me.

I curate news I stumble upon about depression and suicide on my account. I am not sure why I do this, because it does trigger a lot of anxiety for me to follow those stories, and oh! do I follow them, trying to understand what can have happened to so and so when this suicide took place, and why oh why, and so forth.

There are some of the nightmares I fear the most and they are related to my own suicide, fire in my house or one of two children dying - and should I be blessed with grandchildren, where will that stop?
Because I suffer from the bipolar kind of depression, my mind races to very unhealthy conclusions that become uncontrollable and pretty psychotic in nature.

Then, I remember to breathe and that until my last breath, I am alive. So I have to take a big breath when I feel triggered like this. Alive and sad but alive and breathing.

Thank you for reading my rant. This was a beautiful blog, Mary, sorry that it threw me in a bit of anxious mode.

The Gardener Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 5:23pm

Yesterday I had the most charming posts to my memories of laughs after I heard from a friend that he was dying of lung cancer. Thank you all for such indulgence. I had an awful evening - worse night - social workers in this morning with a plan of campaign as they know I am often near the above - walking into the river - but I've helped lug computers across the road as an antidote, and am typing this in my new office! Eyes glazed with exhaustion - but we have 'neighbour day' in the square - Mr G is already saying he's scared, but I'm GOING, with or without him - then when he goes to tell the neighbours his wife's left him he'll have a job to find them. Sometimes the future looks so awful - it is awful, no hope of improvement - live for the day, cash in on every kind word, smile, hug - and every tiny victory won. I agree with the blog - particularly kids nowadays - if they scrawl on the wall they get a gold star - the earning of praise is the thing.

Ruth Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 8:18pm

Recovery is such a fragile thing. When I heard of Sally's death it felt as though I'd been hit in the solar plexus. I've been coasting along quite well for sometime but on a tightrope. My two suicide attempts failed. Mostly I'm glad for me and glad for my family. Then I read about something like Sally's death and bam. I'm knocked sideways and questioning why I carry on. If Sally can't stay alive how on earth can I?
Help. Ruth

Frankie Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:13pm

Evening Ruth; I think questioning why we carry on is a natural reaction - the point though is that we do carry on ... day after day, hour after hour ... tiny steps ... You are not Sally; you are Ruth - and Ruth shows great bravery (even though she may not feel brave) in carrying on each day. If we are lucky enough to have family and friends who care, then we carry on for them ... Wishing you peace of mind and heart Ruth Frankie

Frankie Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:13pm

Evening Ruth; I think questioning why we carry on is a natural reaction - the point though is that we do carry on ... day after day, hour after hour ... tiny steps ... You are not Sally; you are Ruth - and Ruth shows great bravery (even though she may not feel brave) in carrying on each day. If we are lucky enough to have family and friends who care, then we carry on for them ... Wishing you peace of mind and heart Ruth Frankie

Frankie Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:13pm

Evening Ruth; I think questioning why we carry on is a natural reaction - the point though is that we do carry on ... day after day, hour after hour ... tiny steps ... You are not Sally; you are Ruth - and Ruth shows great bravery (even though she may not feel brave) in carrying on each day. If we are lucky enough to have family and friends who care, then we carry on for them ... Wishing you peace of mind and heart Ruth Frankie

Frankie Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:14pm

Apologies for my reply appearing three times - my fault, I was too impatient and kept clicking! Frankie

A View from the Far Side Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:34pm

Hi Ruth, I think you know the answer to that question. Because you're not Sally, you're Ruth, and you're mostly glad to be here. Also you recognise that you've been hit in the solar plexus and are in a fragile space. Sounds like you're perhaps imagining that could have been you. It's normal to feel that shiver of fear; in many ways it would be a surprise if you didn't. I have a friend whose close relative almost died recently of a physical illness. I'm sorry I can't give you any details because it's private. What I can tell you is that she was feeling unbearably sad and didn't understand why she felt like that when the relative was slowly getting better, until she made the link that she herself had had a milder form of this illness (which is potentially life-threatening in any form) and could so easily have been in her relative's situation, could so easily have died. It's okay. Don't be afraid of feeling shite. It will pass (a bit like extreme labour pains build to a frightening intensity and you think the pain is unendurable and never-ending and then it does actually go - have no idea why this popped into my head, but any analogy to help the situation!). It sounds like you need some support from a solid person. Is there anyone who you can talk to? Maybe one of your Moodscope buddies? And remember Ruth that Sally may finally have died, but there are a legion of amazing women (two of whom I've mentioned above) who, like you, suffer terribly but find strategies to get through. Sally made the headlines because it's still very rare for a woman particularly to die of suicide, most women (and men) get through. Sending hugs over the ether. I'm off to bed now, Night Night.

Caroline Ashcroft Moodscope Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 9:04pm

On May 14 we shared a link on the Moodscope Facebook page to a tribute to Sally from one of our Moodscope members - take a look, it's a great piece and Kevin who wrote it received a personal message from Sally's daughter as she was so touched by it. Carolinex

Mary Fri, May 27th 2016 @ 10:55pm

Thank you to everyone who commented. I am sorry I have been away from my computer all day. For me the thing about Sally finally succumbing to her illness was that she was at least reached sixty. Sometimes this seems like a shot putt competition or throwing the javelin. The thing has to come to earth eventually (after all, we are none of us immortal) but it's a matter of honour for it to fall to the ground furthest away.
When we were in our late twenties or early thirties, and were first able to be honest with each other, my brother and sister and I made a vow that we would never do to our mother what our father did when he shot himself. We could not put her through that again. Now I have my girls: I have promised them that I won't die by my own hand. I have my husband, who would feel he had failed me (he never fails me), I have my brother and sister who would understand, but grieve. But for all that, suicide remains a comfortable, yet slightly ominous friend; if it gets too bad, there's always that. If I can't take it anymore then I can, as Thomas Hardy wrote, "Pass into some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm". But I'll keep going for now. I'll keep going for as long as I can, until it hurts too much to stay. I hope and expect to get far beyond sixty. The final victory will be death by other causes. That's when the javelin or shot goes out of the arena. That's the gold medal. I'm aiming for that.

Ruth Sat, May 28th 2016 @ 8:07am

Thanks so much to people who replied to my posting. So grateful and I will take time to think on the gentle wisdom of the comments. It's so good to have an extended family where one can be totally honest. Moodscope really is a lifesaver. x

readerwriter Mon, May 30th 2016 @ 9:02pm

I love the honesty of this space - and Mary - for a look into the abyss. I have teetered there myself, but looking in when I'm not off balance might be frightening but helps- because there are all sorts of safety devices, harnesses etc I realise I can use if I need. Thank you

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