Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “Freud”

No Rhyme, No Reason

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in London. It was a newsy note that ended,
“Life is fragile, give it plenty love.”
The ending struck a chord with me, because I had earlier been wondering about the fragility of life in light of two well publicized suicides — that of Gary Speed in the UK, and Kate Fitzgerald in Dublin.

Gary Speed.

Gary Speed

Gary Speed was 42, a highly respected footballer and manager of the Wales soccer team. Hours before he took his own life last weekend, he was on BBC1’s Football Focus show and in great form, promising to come back again before Christmas. A friend he spoke with after the show, said Gary sounded happy and full of life. Hours later, his wife found his body hanging at the family home outside Chester. There were no suspicious circumstances. No message, no goodbye note.

Kate Fitzgerald was 25, an Irish-American, she was born in San Jose, California and moved to Ireland with her Irish parents in the 1990’s. She studied journalism at Dublin City University, and became a member of Democrats Abroad, after watching George Bush demolish Kerry in a 2004 US Presidential debate. By 2007 she was the organization’s chairperson in Ireland, and had built its membership from 200 to 1400. She was a regular commentator on Irish radio during the 2008 US Presidential election and came to the States for Obama’s inaugeration.

Kate Fitzgerald

Work stress and a relationship break-up spun Kate Fitzgerald’s life upside down and she began drinking heavy. Under the influence of alcohol and antidepressants, she signed herself into St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, on July 18 of this year. St Pat’s specialises in mental-health issues, substance and alcohol abuse. After she was discharged from hospital in August, she sent an email to Peter Murtagh of the Irish Times, which was signed Grace Ringwood. The email contained an article on suicide, and Grace was insisting on anonymity should the Irish Times decide to publish it.

Mr. Murtagh wrote back and they made contact by phone. She told him her real name and he recognised it, as the Times had previously published an article by her. She was a good writer and seemed more mature and confident than her 25 years. Murtagh said he’d recommend that the Times publish her piece, but he would disclose her real name to the editor. She seemed pleased with that and followed up the conversation with an email a few hours later, in which she said she enjoyed writing and looked forward to contributing to the Irish Times in the future.

On Friday, September 9th, the day before World Suicide Prevention Day, the Times published her piece, anonymously, as she requested. A few days later her father, Tom Fitzgerald, called the newspaper and said he was certain the suicide article had been written by his daughter Kate. She had taken her own life on August 22nd, a couple of hours after emailing Murtagh. He may have been the last person she spoke to. There was no goodbye note, no explanation. She was only a few weeks out of hospital.

The fragility of life, the balancing act of the mind. Two talented people calling time long before it’s due. Two people who seemed to be in good spirits, when they spoke to others, just hours before taking their own lives. I wondered how this could be. I looked back at the suicides which had impacted my own life and still came up with no answers.

Paddy was my dad’s cousin and one of his best friends. He had a fine farm, a small shop in the village and was engaged to a local hair stylist. I was in primary school at the time, and remember when their relationship ended, because there was a lot of talk in our kitchen about the engagement ring being returned to Paddy.

One spring Sunday, he came to our house after Mass for the usual cup of tea and a chat with my dad. It was lambing season and he was going to the farm, in case foxes or carrion crows were preying on newborns. After that, he was meeting his ex in a local hotel, and she was returning the ring. He seemed in good humour and said he’d see us later, but I never saw Paddy again.

That afternoon a man came with the news that Paddy had been found dead, half his head blown off. I’ll never forget that. The man was a family friend and he was shocked and distraught. He explained that even though the news was devastating, he couldn’t stop laughing and said it was like his brain was working backwards. I’ll never forget that either, or the trouble that my dad and his friends went to, to ensure Paddy’s death would be registered as an accident, rather than suicide. It was my dad who delivered the news to his ex, as she sat in the hotel lobby, waiting for Paddy. In later years I asked dad about it. He conceeded that Paddy took his own life, but the why remained a mystery. “I suppose something snapped in the poor fella,” he said.

Jack was a grouchy old man, a life long dole recipient who lived in a council house with his son’s family. He always wore a brown suit and tweed cap and held court with other dolers in an alleyway near the post office. He was king of the corner-boys and delighted in lobbing smart remarks at decent and innocent people. I didn’t like him. One evening I was coming home from fishing and I met Jack on the road. He had a coil of rope over his shoulder and he stopped to chat with me, which I thought was unusual. He was friendly and spoke about good fishing spots and what the best flies were for that time of the year. We continued on our separate ways and I went home for my tea.

Some hours later word came to town that Jack was found hanging in Mrs. C’s cowshed. The widow discovered him there when she brought the animals home for milking. The news stunned me. I was confused and tried to convince myself that it must have been an accident, hadn’t I spoken to him earlier? And he didn’t seem cracked or crazy, if anything he was more than normal. I couldn’t reconcile things, and the image of that coil of rope over Jack’s shoulder has never left me.

Maurice was a few years older than me. He worked in London and came home for two weeks holidays every summer. Wearing the latest fashions, he cut a dash, maybe too much of a dash for our town. We hung out with him in the shoemakers workshop and he told us about a book he was writing. It was about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, years before the cliché was coined. I was fascinated and figured the book would be banned in Ireland. At the time I was playing in a local band with a cousin of Maurice’s and we absorbed every word he told us about the London scene, the clubs, the hustlers, the whiz and the gizz. He promised to come to a gig we were playing in Lahinch at the weekend, and we were excited that he was coming to hear us.

I heard about Maurice’s suicide from his cousin. Maurice had hung himself from a tree in the Old Glen, a place he loved to walk. We were numbed, helpless and bewildered. How could he? He was in the middle of the scene in London and seemed to be enjoying life with no problems. What went wrong? We never found out. He left no note. As a mark of respect we cancelled the gig, it was the only gesture we could make.

Who we meet on the street may not be who they appear to be. Everyone suffers, everyone wants to be happy and free from sorrow. But for some, the pain gets so great that it blocks the light of the soul. Life is fragile alright, and I wish we always knew how to go with the flow, and avoid the submerged rocks and demons. As Jerry Garcia sang in ‘Ripple’, “If I knew the way, I would take you home.”

In the wake of Gary Speed’s death, Irish journalist Eamonn Maillie spoke to psychiatrist Dr. Phillip McGarry about secrecy and depression. Here’s their conversation.

Finito

Note: This is fiction, inspired by a lot of talk I’ve heard about therapy and therapists over the last few days…
therapy

Dr. Horace Steiner’s therapy room was warm and smelled musty, with a faint whiff of heating oil. His patient, Larry Ryan, lay on the couch sobbing and Dr. Horace let him be, inhaled deeply and gazed out the window that overlooked High Street. He frowned blankly at the head shop on the opposite side and wondered what fantasies and troubles his next patient, Mary Kelly, would bring. After Mary he’d have lunch in the Cuckoo’s Nest on the quays. Today was Friday and they’d have crab cakes on the menu. He’d have crab cakes, French fries, tossed salad and a glass of wine. Maybe two glasses of wine.

Horace was retiring age, but reluctant to give up his practice. There were a number of reasons for this. First, he didn’t know what he would do with his spare time, he hadn’t any hobbies or interests: once he did — stamp collecting, bird watching, a spot of polo when he was younger, golf every so often. But he’s lost interest in all of that stuff now. Second, he dreaded being at home all day with his wife, his third wife, Mary Lou. He sighed and wondered if he needed therapy himself: three wives in thirty years, not a record by a long shot. Larry King had eight, or was it nine?Could he manage a fourth wife? Mary Kelly flickered through his mind and he flexed his shoulders. No, not Mary Kelly, not another Mary.

Larry moaned and stammered an incoherent sentence. Horace turned his head away from the window, exhaled quietly and said,
“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard in my entire career. She took you for 200k, shot your dog and ran off with your mother’s hairdresser. That’s awful, really awful.”
Larry wailed and curled into the fetal position.
“Horrible,” Horace said, “really horrible, no wonder you’re in such a state.”
He left his chair and went to the cluttered desk in the corner and searched for something. Pills. He took up this bottle and that, read labels, cast them aside. Picked up another, discarded it, then another. Finally he found the correct container, Zibrax. He poured a glass of water from the cooler and shuffled to the couch.
“Here,” he said quietly to Larry, “this pill will help you.”

Larry took the medicine and Horace advised him to lay still, inhale deeply and watch his breath. Horace put a tape into his boom box and played new age flute music, then lit a stick of incense.

Back in his chair, Horace glanced around the therapy room. It was in a mess but he hadn’t the interest to tidy it. If he were charging top dollar for consultations he’d have a cleaner in. But the Irish wouldn’t pay top dollar for therapy. The Irish didn’t understand they had to pay someone to listen to them and try and unravel their messes and tangles. They confused him and he could never figure if they were really telling him how things actually were with them or if they were making it all up. Like Mary Kelly for instance. Was she really having an affair with a priest? And did they really go to Amsterdam every month to S&M parties? He didn’t know what to believe. The Irish had very fertile imaginations.

Larry was moaning again, the pill wasn’t doing the job. Horace glanced at him, pathetic clothes hanger in a crumpled suit. Larry was an engineer, worked in an office across town. Sad story, if one could believe him. Now he was bawling and stammering nonsensically.
“Take it easy,” Horace said quietly, “take it easy Larry.”

The phone on the desk rang and Larry quietened. The answering machine clicked in: Horace’s wife Mary Lou cried ‘Don’t forget to get milk’.
Larry sobbed again and Horace moved near him.
“Ok Larry, ok…now, here’s what I want you to do…I want you to raise your left leg high as you can off the couch and with a much force as you can muster up, slam it on the couch and shout ‘I’m angry and upset but I’m ok.’ Do that five times with the left leg and then do it with the right leg.”

Larry did what he was told and Horace returned to his chair and stared out the window. He wondered if Larry’s girlfriend really shot the dog. Shot the critter with Larry’s duck hunting gun. Freud would say she was shooting Larry by proxy. Of course Freud also said the Irish were the only race in the world that couldn’t be psychoanalyzed. Admittedly Freud was wrong about a number of things, but maybe he was on target about the Irish. And then it struck Horace that if he retired, he might write a book about his years giving therapy to the Irish. There was plenty of material. Subversive ballerinas, Buddhist butchers, film star typists, lesbian nuns and gay jockeys. If he had known Ireland was so weird, he’d never have left America. He should have researched the move more thoroughly. The countryside enchanted him and he was in love with Mary Lou back then and everything looked rosy, even the grey Burren hills. They came over for a tryst weekend from New York and fell in love with the place. His mind rambled back to that weekend, arriving in Shannon, driving up the coast, smoked salmon in Lisdoonvarna and an afternoon shag on the deserted beach at Bishop’s Quarter.

He forgot about his patient until Larry kicked the wall with a thunderous bang that jolted Horace. Larry was in a frenzy, legs and arms flaying and thumping. Horace was taken aback. Larry jumped off the couch and attacked a filing cabinet.
“Whoa!!” Horace shouted, “Whoa, Larry…take it easy man…calm down…”
But Larry was ‘out there’ tearing around the room, battering furniture, shouting ‘I’m angry and fed up and fucked up and nobody gives a shit and you just take my fuckin’ money and buy milk for your fuckin’ wife…”
“It’s ok Larry…it’s ok…”
“It’s not fuckin’ ok!!”
Larry lifted the couch with the ease of a circus strongman and flung it at Horace. The analyst fell on the floor with a scream. The phone rang again and Larry picked it up. It was Mary Lou with another reminder about the milk.
“There will be no milk today,” Larry panted, “’cause the cow jumped over the moon and I’m damned if I’m goin’ to run after her…I’ve done enough running in my life…I’ve had it…finito.“
“Finito,” moaned Horace, as the door banged and Larry rattled down the stairs, “I’ve had it too. I’ve had it with the Irish…Freud was right…they’re too much for us…too much…they’ll kill us before we cure them…”

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