…it’s what you do with what happens to you.” Hmm.
It’s a great saying for a nice poster but is it true? Is it realistic? Is it fair?
After a traumatic event in your life, the difference that will help you get over it, with mental health and dignity intact, is where the event leaves you. The degree of pain you are left with, the degree of guilt, confusion, anger, sadness or horror you are left with and, most importantly, the degree of support you have, all make an enormous difference. Someone who falls down a pothole will either need to be helped up or will need to pull themselves up. But if there is no-one to help or they haven’t the strength, then what?
I have had a number of difficult things happen in my life and my ability to “get a grip and move on” has been different each time. Being made redundant was one of the best experiences of my life. Others, less so.
Occasionally we think we have moved on when actually we have just suppressed our reactions. This happened to me when I was raped. It also happened after I had two miscarriages. I thought I was fine. I thought I was healed. I went on to have two beautiful babies and I thought I had just accepted the miscarriages as part of the biological process. Until I watched a drama about a woman having a miscarriage and I physically shook with desperation – hers and mine.
I have worked with an ex-soldier, a veteran of nearly every conflict in recent history. He has watched friends die, has been trapped in a vehicle on fire, has seen children slaughtered and has killed strangers. He will never be fully healed, physically or mentally. Each conflict brought a new trauma. He never had a chance to deal with any of it. The idea that he can learn how to move on is fanciful.
To suggest that people should process trauma, adopt a positive mental attitude, glean some learning points and then put it all behind them is insulting and ignores a fundamental problem with mental illness – the very resources that you need to do this are just not there anymore.
Being a Christian ( or following any other faith for that matter) does not save you from mental health problems either – it is hard to sense God’s love when you feel trapped in the dark and cold. If you are trying to decide the best way to kill yourself seeking joy and contentment is not on the menu.
It isn’t always like this; people can be capable of moving mountains sometimes. Nick Vujicic, for example, is an extraordinary, inspirational speaker, who learned as a teenager how to overcome extreme difficulty and make the best of his situation. I admire him and his attitude immensely but just because one person can do this, does that mean that we all can? All the time? Not everyone is a superhero and not every person will react in a similar way to a situation. We are just not all wired the same.
People can wallow in self pity – this is true. But to suggest that they should just get a grip is to ignore where they have been left. If they are broken, at the bottom of a mineshaft, then all the positivity in the world won’t get them out.