Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Shame is a common feature of emotional breakdown, and of emotional or physical or cultural difference.
Shame is closely connected with stigma, taboo, guilt, minorities, difference, marginalisation, poverty, homelessness, suicide, etc.
Many human systems, including societies and communities, stigmatise people who are mentally different or mentally unwell.
Bullying and 'othering' also happens.
Society is not good at tolerating or understanding people who are different.
Political systems are particularly inept in understanding and addressing these issues.
The mentally different and mentally unwell also 'stigmatise themselves' at an individual level (perhaps partly due to societal conditioning), although they do not necessarily stigmatise other people who are mentally different or mentally unwell.
Many people who are mentally different or mentally unwell are deeply compassionate to other people, especially to other people who are mentally different or mentally unwell.
This compassionate capacity or potential is shared by the culturally and physically different people in society, who are often among the most compassionate.
They (we), the bereaved and broken, the muddled and mended, the mending and marginalised, the misfits and minorities, understand what being broken and precarious is.
We can only truly understand what we have lived.
Only the suicidal understand what it is to be suicidal.
According to many definitions, I'm mentally different and mentally unwell. I'm certainly suicidal according to many definitions, and have been so for more than six years unrelenting, raw and untreated by pharmaceuticals, although this does not mean that I will kill myself. I know very well now how to drive the roller-coaster. I'm a sensitive too. And a major misfit. A basket case and lunatic and proud to be so.
I prefer to run or plank, or meditate, or distract myself in other ways, and generally to reframe my madness as growth towards utter fearlessness, rather than put my trust in doctors or drugs. It works for me. Everyone is different.
I'm proud to be a survivor of suicide and other traumas.
I'm proud of my resilience internally, but another part of me, on behalf of my external world of people, especially family and friends who know me and have seen what I have become (a wreck of a man), despises me.
I can recognise objectively that I am extremely critical and hurtful to myself, and I can easily objectively justify this treatment of myself, because of my shame and self-loathing, on behalf of others, and the guilt I feel if I imagine being kind to myself.
In many ways I join with societal stigmatising of myself. Lunatic basket case. Misfit who destroyed himself for no apparent reason. Good for nothing.
It's like I'm serving a prison sentence for being so destructive to myself and others. I deserve to be punished. I do not deserve to live peacefully.
I would be very uncomfortable being kind to myself. I would feel guilty and self-indulgent, as if I have not learned lessons of how to be a good person.
At my age I have to consider the possibility that I might never be able to change these hurtful views of myself, which make it very difficult for me to maintain relationships with most family and friends who have known me for many years.
I feel that I want to start a new life, where nobody knows who I was, and I no longer have to see people among whom I feel so intensely ashamed and unable to explain myself.
I don't want to explain myself. I just want peace.
I'm happy reframing my madness and disintegration as fearlessness and rebirth. If you know me and find that upsetting, then I'm sorry but that's your problem not mine.
I've plenty other people in my life who don't judge me, who don't try to fix me, who don't urge me to 'get some help' or see a therapist.
Life changes. We all change.
I'm learning to choose the people I want in my life, and to what degree each is in my life. Particularly, where I choose not to be too close to family and past friends, this is to protect my wellbeing and theirs.
We tend to hurt the ones we love, because the love creates a vulnerability and susceptibility for hurt that doesn't exist between strangers.
I don't want people to be close to me in my life who aren't comfortable (talking and joking, exploring and debating, etc) about about death and suicide. I don't want people close to me in my life who are frightened by the fact that I choose to talk openly and joyfully about death and suicide.
I don't want people in my life who are part of the problem of stigmatising differences and minorities, and who help to sustain the silence, taboos and denialism of death and suicide, because of their own fears.
I believe that most of the difficulties that humans face in the world today are because too many people are too frightened of death and dying and grief, and so the taboos and silence and denialism and stigmas and fears persist, and are cascaded generationally. These very many frightened people, in the vast majority, don't dare think about death and grief and suicide, let alone talk and joke about these things, and so politicians and big business are able to divide and rule, by fear, and people consume and waste far too much as if living in some sort of deluded trance, because they, and so we all collectively as humanity, have lost touch with what it is to be human.
I'm not the mad one.
The madness is among the vast majority who dare not smile at death.
a gypsy king
Among the many suicidal people I talk with, I recently met a wonderful man, a gypsy.
For the purpose of this story I've changed his name to Bill.
When age 18, Bill saw his father murdered, extremely violently.
Bill carries this trauma. Bill also carries the trauma of not being able to say goodbye to his father before he died suddenly from his injuries in the hospital bed. And Bill he carries the traumas of his disintegrations since then.
Bill is having to teach himself how to read and write.
Bill is among the most naturally intelligent people I've ever met.
Bill is a brilliantly gifted communicator. Natural charisma. Modest, strong, funny and fearless. Eye contact and connection at the level of the soul.
And yet Bill is having to teach himself how to read and write.
Trauma creates a susceptibility for experiencing more traumas.
And so the disintegration happens.
Disintegrations like these can go on for many years.
Bill is mostly unable to talk about his traumas and his suicidal thoughts. I'm deeply privileged and honoured that he can talk to me about it, and I can listen.
It's very important for traumatised people to be able to talk about how they feel, and not be judged.
I'm lucky that I can listen and absorb some of this angst and perhaps help with its processing. I'm lucky that I can say, or understand silently, that I know this path.
I know this traumatic path. This traumatic disintegration of self and the feelings of some sort of rebirth, especially for younger people. (I wonder a lot that it's very late in life for rebirth to be viable for me.)
Bill is generous and loving to other people.
He is a gardener, a sensitive, and he wants to be good in the world.
He is already immensely good in the world. He just can't see it yet, I think probably because he is so deeply traumatised, and addicted to his own self-destructive patterns of coping.
He longs for the chance to be a positive person for the world and nature.
He is trying to rebuild his life after serving eight months in prison in 2020.
Bill sees himself as evil. He describes himself as evil.
To me Bill is an angel.
I see that Bill is a beautiful man, with huge potential.
Bill is stigmatised by many people because he is a gypsy and because he is mentally different and mentally unwell.
Bill wants to die, because he is so tortured by his past and ongoing traumas, even though he is a lovely man.
For people like Bill, I believe it's about shame and guilt, and punishing oneself, even though there's been already almost too much trauma and punishment to bear.
It's interesting and complicated and it takes time.
I hope Bill manages to rebuild his life because the world would be a sadder place without him; without his generosity, sensitivity, bravery and beauty, and all his other wonderful qualities and potential.
I like to imagine the people I would choose to be on a desert island with me if a group of us were stranded with nothing except what we could find and forage and make and build.
For all sorts of reasons Bill would be top of my list.