Thursday 10 October 2019

Black dog

As I go on [and on and on and on?] I appreciate that my job is only tangentially  about the tasks in the lab manual and the learning outcomes in the curriculum. The things that students will remember is when the script is left on the table and we deal with more immediately current and interesting things which crop up. Like my encounter with a young scientist who is going places, which gave my morale a boost - that was way off the syllabus. I was in good spirits therefore when I left work a little early to pay my respects to the family of a  neighbour, who died over the weekend."No flowers please, donations, if desired, to AWARE." flagged a tragedy, because that charity works in depression and bipolar support.

I think this must be the fourth case of someone making their own exit which has occurred in a 3km radius of our mountain home since we moved there 20 years ago. There is no upside to such events but I feel that repetition helps to de-stigmatise the families involved. If it happens so often, you have to be really certain in your righteousness to be judgemental.  I was chatting to one of my living neighbours, who had signed up to an 8 hours shift marshalling traffic, about what a loss it must be for the family. Even a dark and broody father is still daddy. Neighbour remembered how, at the last such event in the parish, he'd been in the pub with some mates. One of them had suggested that the principle actor was 'selfish' for abandoning his wife and teenage children. A complete stranger turned round and invited him to "Shut the fuck up! You know nothing about the Black Dog. Your pal didn't know he had a family when he pitched out; all he could feel was a world of pain". The raw emotion of that unscripted response put a bit of a damper on the pints.

Last Summer a very old friend of mine  from Dublin killed himself. I had to write to his wife; another old friend of mine, although they were both much younger than me. The only thing I could imagine was to say "damn those neurotransmitters" which had become so unbalanced as to teeter poor Paul off the edge. It's an imbalance like from when your immune system starts to eat your own myelin-sheath [MS] or your pancreas stops producing insulin [Type I diabetes]. But if you can scapegoat something so small, impersonal and essentially beyond our control then it may help unshoulder a portion of the blame which survivors inevitably carry with them forever. It's a bit like Niall Breslin personifying his Black Dog as Jeffrey as a way to establish some distance from the darkness. Another blobbessay on depression.

I was, as always around Irish funerals, touched and impressed by the capacity of the community to come together to navigate the transition from the ordinary daily round abruptly to the grave. And I did note the phenomenal capacity of Irish people to make and consume tea and ham sandwiches. I think we do death well in Ireland.

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