I have seen corpses thrown down in front of the temple doors, in front of the altars, to make their deaths even more of a reproach. Some cut off their breath with a noose, and banished, by death, their fear of death, summoning their approaching fate from the beyond.
Ovid – Metamorphoses, book VII – Aeacus tells of the plague at Aegina
I have to confess that I have never read the Metamorphoses but in these days of lockdown I like to indulge myself in reading about past epidemics in literature. For one thing I think it is useful to be aware how epidemics are something that do pup up from time to time, and not some kind of God-given punishment. Also, as I wrote in previous posts, they play out rather differently than wars from the emotional, human, and social point of view.
In this Easter Sunday I’d like to pause on the emotional toll. Something which is kind of overlooked in the panic of defending ourselves from the ‘Chinese virus‘ or the ‘American virus‘ (the so-called Spanish flu 1918-1920, passed from pigs to humans, courtesy of the USA, to paraphrase Donald Trump).
In the same way as public gatherings and crowds are the perfect breeding ground for viruses, isolation and confinement are the the ideal setting for destructive emotions to spring up: sadness, depression, panic, despair, anger, and most of all.. suicide.
I know a lot of people will cringe at the idea of examining suicide, it is one of those things we’d rather hide under the carpet. However, I…
I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don’t really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is being a man.
Albert Camus, The Plague
Yes, exactly, you read my mind….thank you Albert.
By accident I was going to go on tour, right before the lockdown, with a play about teenage suicide. In the months before that, when writing the script, I had to read extensively about the topic. Not that there is a lot of material available out there, to tell you the truth.
A psychologist dealing exclusively with suicidal patients directed me to a book which I devoured in about 3 days and which hasn’t been, unfortunately, translated into English (‘The Prevention of Suicide’ by Maurizio Pompili)
What I found out is that talking about suicide in a compassionate way will not trigger anyone into action but may instead have the opposite effect. What is very damaging instead is the shallow portraying of celebrity suicides, for instance, on which cheap media and tabloids feed on.
So let us talk about the most destructive emotion with honesty and take a good look at it. Let’s start with the obvious: a lot of people have suicidal ideas. That’s perfectly normal.
Psychological pain can be more crippling and real than physical pain.
You might have lost your mother, your son, be out of work, confined in a home with a physically abusing husband (or emotionally abusive wife), worst of all you could be a child living in a toxic family environment. Or you could suffer from a mental illness: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizofrenia. How about being confined in a 30-square meter flat with no balcony and maybe a nice window overlooking a dark alley? How about being completely alone, without friends, nobody that can support you in case of you need to talk to somebody? The list can go on and on.
YOUR PAIN IS REAL
No Easter has been more real than this one, in many ways.
The picture below is a shot I took when walking the Saint James Way in the North of Spain in 2012. That’s a time I was completely alone. I remember I cried like a river for most of that day.
That’s when I killed mySELF… but not my BODY.
I closed my eyes and walked into the abyss.
So whatever your situation is my thoughts are to all of you out there.
And however bad your pain is… DON’T HURT YOUR BODY.
Somebody did it on our behalf a long time ago.
Many of us will emerge completely transformed from this experience.