A Meaningful Life

Spring! Just the word makes me feel optimistic. Lighter mornings and everywhere the green of new growth. Daffodil trumpets standing proud above white snowdrops, lavender crocuses and pastel primroses. Driving around the locale my eyes are drawn to blooms peeping through verges, each one gives a little lift.

Strolling down a country lane in Pembrokeshire recently, I spotted the wild primroses in the photograph, growing in waves like coloured rugs thrown over the banks and hedges, I love the fact that no one planted them, they are just there delicate and optimistic.

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All living things have a cycle, don’t they? A beginning, a middle and an end or put another way death, decay and renewal. It’s omnipresence is one of the few certainties in life, the knowledge we will all have an ending one day, so little wonder we appreciate signs of renewal, perhaps it gives us hope?

Whilst on the sojourn in Pembrokeshire I was reminded of the finality of death over a family lunch in the The Jolly Sailor pub. Feasting on slow cooked Welsh Lamb and roast potatoes, we marvelled at the breath-taking view of the Claddau Bridge, its span stretching across the high blue sky above us. Although very much a man made structure, we soon learned its ‘beginning’ was a rather tragic one.

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My father-in-law David was a policeman in Pembrokeshire in the 1970s when the bridge was under construction. The county of Pembrokeshire had previously been divided into two halves, a small car ferry being the only mode of crossing the estuary.

On 2nd June 1970 David was having an unremarkable day patrolling around Haverfordwest when an urgent call came through on the police radio. David and three other police officers were immediately dispatched to the town of Pembroke Dock at the southern side of the estuary.

Dashing to the scene, they arrived to find the partially built bridge, had all but collapsed. The sections of the structure were still attached, but had partially fallen, tipping forwards on to the muddy bank of the estuary far below. The black and white images I’ve seen remind me of the shape of a giraffe’s neck reaching forward as if to take a drink from the river.

Claddau Bridge Collapse

Recalling the traumatic events of forty-five years ago, my father-in-law’s face reflects the strain of that day as he tells of the ambulances arriving to ferry the injured and dead to the County Hospital. He doesn’t go into detail.

The reason for the disaster? A cantilever being used to place one of the 150 ton steel box girders into position had collapsed. Later the cause would also be attributed to inadequacies in the design of a pier support and operational failures. Eventually a new British Standard for bridge building would be developed as a result.

That Claddau was the last major bridge construction disaster in the UK, will be of small comfort to those directly affected by the tragedy. Four workers died, their ‘middle’ was interrupted prematurely and without preparation, a ‘good ending’ denied. Five were seriously injured.

Dying is inevitable, many feel its the how and why we get there that is more worrisome … If our parents are lucky enough to grow old we are aware of the twilight phase of life and however long he or she is ‘good for their age’, eventually there will be the messy part at the end, hopefully brief. Such thoughts cause most of us to shrug our shoulders, and dismiss the thought. We cross our fingers and hope for a mercifully swift departure.

So the prospect of our own death is always there in the background, pushing us on to do what? Live well though the spring, summer and autumn, even the winter of our lives; fuelling the desire to grow and flourish perhaps, to leave in our wake something of value, our offspring or some other legacy.

Many of us are busy doing everyday things, ploughing our own particular furrow. Even unconsciously, making meaning of our lives is usually important to us. Commenting on existential therapy and the inner conflict which confronting death may cause, Spinelli says:

“Meaning … is implicit in our experience of reality, we cannot tolerate meaningless.” (1989, 7)

Perhaps it is worth taking a few moments then to consider what influence we might have in the world. If you imagine writing your own eulogy for example, what would you like it to say?

Few of us will have helped construct a spectacular bridge or some other important landmark, but we all do something every day that makes an impression on others. And whatever inspires you may also inspire future generations. I hope at the very least my children will appreciate wild flowers growing in the hedgerows …

Spinelli, E, The Interpreted World, Sage, London, 1989

Book Review by Debra Bryson: An Inconvenient Posting

Book Review – An Inconvenient Posting (Laura J Stephens)

by

 Debra R. Bryson, MSW, LCSW, CPC, co-author of A Portable Identity: A Woman’s Guide to Maintaining a Sense of Self While Moving Overseas, revised edition, 2005

9781904881803-Perfect.indd

 August 8, 2013

Moving overseas has a profound effect on a woman’s identity when she moves overseas to support her husband’s career; change ripples through every aspect of her being. A wide range of feelings are normal to experience to some degree during transition, including feelings of depression.

In  An Inconvenient Posting, Laura J. Stephens courageously shines the light on her illusion that “everything was okay” when she was spiraling downward into a clinical depression; powerfully exposing an often dark, isolating, and lonely side of an international relocation for the accompanying spouse.

The author shares with the reader the early warning signs that gnawed at her; feelings of detachment, loneliness, isolation, despair, anger, loss, and resentment; and how she dutifully pushed these feelings aside to focus on the more positive aspects of the move to support her husband’s career and to give her family the often much sought after opportunity to experience another culture.

Stephen’s story chronicles the desolation she felt and how she reached a pivotal turning point, unable to contain her pain any longer; she reached out to get the help she needed. With the guidance of a trusted therapist, Stephen’s learns how the onset of her depressive episode was triggered by her experience relocating internationally as her identity was flung into a state of transition; beginning from the time she and her husband first learned of the possibility of moving from her hometown in England to the wilds of Houston, Texas in the United States.

Essential to Stephen’s recovery was her willingness to look inward and acknowledge she was in trouble; her commitment to finding the supports she needed, and her tenacity to move forward and resolve her depression. Emerging stronger within herself in a foreign land, Stephen’s story, along with an array of resources, gives hope to anyone struggling with clinical depression during an international relocation.

Identity Crisis, Depression and Finding a Way Back

A few days ago I launched my memoir ‘An Inconvenient Posting: An expat wife’s memoir of lost identity’ at the world. Over 80 people helped me celebrate and unsurprisingly, I was flushed with excitement to finally have the book in my hand!

After first reading the introductory Chapter to my guests (Cowboy in the Bedroom reflects a period of contentment after I had settled into Houston life) I turned to a second excerpt; a part of the story which describes my three children starting school in Houston. It is autumn and for my youngest, the beginning of her school life. I had planned for this eventuality, having recently trained and qualified in the UK as a psychotherapist. Unfortunately, having done this outside the State of Texas, I would later be informed I was unable to practice there.

For me that time was both a beginning and an ending; the end of an era because I no longer had a child at home during the day (something I had viewed until that moment as fairly positive) and the beginning of a slide into an episode of depression. To quote from my memoir, “I was incredulous at the evaporation of my careful plans… to ensure I would be gainfully employed at this moment.”
Against the backdrop of isolation, which arrival in a foreign posting can bring, I felt the children’s absence keenly. Although this loss was only one piece in a jigsaw of circumstances, that when pieced together, formed a picture I would call expat depression. My memoir reveals how I spiralled into identity crisis and what helped me find my way back to a happy state of mind – a place from which I could enjoy the posting.

If I needed proof that people are touched by the sharing of such emotional challenges, I felt it at the launch party. As I glanced up from my book, the assembled crowd were listening intently but the look on their faces reflected back to me the depth of feeling they were experiencing. Perhaps some of them were re-living the pang they felt as they waved a child off to school or much later when they left home. We usually want our children to go but that does not stop us feeling the pain of separation when they do…

Leaving the Lake House, Summer 48. Painting by artist Kay Crain

Depression touches our lives in unexpected ways; we hope never to experience it and yet many do and most of us know someone else who has. It seems it is part of the human experience to occasionally find ourselves unable to cope emotionally. But to be in that place is often isolating and lonely and there are no geographical or social barriers to being depressed.

Each year, World Mental Health Day is celebrated on 10th October to ‘raise public awareness about mental health issues’. The day promotes open discussion of mental disorders, and investments in prevention, promotion and treatment services. This year the theme for the day is “Depression: A Global Crisis”’.

My motivation for writing An Inconvenient Posting was to focus on depression and identity crisis and share my hard won learning. It is in two distinct parts; some people will prefer to read a story that entertains and informs, while others prefer a ‘how to’ approach. The memoir is a lively, sad and often humorous account of a depressive episode and the second part, a practical guide to recognizing, managing and seeking professional help for anyone currently struggling with depression.

PS Don’t miss a series of blogs at www.Wordgeyser.com on coping with children leaving for college and the reality of the ’empty nest’:

And Tina L Quick’s book:The Global Nomad’s Guide to University (2010) Summertime Publishing, see more at Expatbookshop.com

See more of artist Kay Crain at her website and blog: kaycrain.com