With RUOK Day and World Suicide Prevention Week, it’s heartening to see so many stories, conversations and messages being shared on social media, in mainstream media and in everyday life. My daughters, 9 and 10, asked me this morning ‘are you ok, mum?’
And I thought I’d share a personal story about my internal response to this question. To my girls I said ‘yes, I’m great’ and in all honesty, today I am. But more than great, I am grateful.
At my core I am a truly optimistic and positive person. I see the glass as (more than) half full and I am solutions focused in everything I do. I’ve created a business that works alongside clients, using a strengths-based approach to find solutions and develop strategies that help them build strong, sustainable relationships with those who matter most – as I believe wholeheartedly in the power of connection.
And my faith in the goodness, the richness and the kindness of humanity drives me forward.
However, I have spent the last weeks with my faith being challenged and it’s been hard. Small things were becoming big, important issues in my head and my heart and my head felt really heavy all the time. I found myself responding to negativity with negativity and I was being drawn into a pretty dark place.
I couldn’t work out what had brought me to this place or why I was feeling like this.
Don’t get me wrong…life hasn’t and isn’t always rainbows and sunshine…I’m not naive nor have I been blessed with a life without hurdles. At a young age I went through my parents’ divorce and my father’s subsequent struggles, I’ve journeyed through a marriage break up of my own, I’ve watched friends bury their children and I’ve encountered friendship losses and disappointments over the years.
But this was something different. This was a feeling of dread and bleakness that I couldn’t shake and couldn’t attribute to a life event.
And then, as I sat crying at home earlier this week, I realized what it was. I had been working hard and had been extra busy, and I had left myself vulnerable and without the proper strength or reserves for a surprise event to break my resilience. And that surprise event, the trigger that put me in this place, was a book!
I read “The Tattooist of Auschwich” by Heather Morris, telling the life story of Lale, a Slovakian Jewish young man who had taken himself off to ‘work for the German’s’ – in place of his older brother who had a wife and children – to keep his family safe.
Lale’s story takes you through the three years he spent as the tattooist at one of the most horrendous places on earth. He did what he had to survive, and survive he did. Lale found light in the darkness and love in the middle of the most depraved place on earth.And the book detailed that depravity with raw honesty.
I devoured the book in 2 days unable to stop reading and at the same time unable to comprehend the terrible, unspeakable tragedy that was World War II.
And again, whilst I’d like to think I’m not a naive person – I’ve read many books and watched many documentaries and films about the holocaust – I was totally shattered, and without a full tank of energy, I was hit hard. My heart ached for the injustices and my soul was beaten in the realization that humankind could be so evil to one another.
The values I hold so dearly of connection, integrity and gratitude, that guide me like a moral compass, were challenged beyond belief. And I was lost.
Lost in a place that was so unfamiliar. I didn’t want to see or speak to anyone including my friends. I didn’t want to go out. I didn’t want to work. And I didn’t want to smile. I felt alone and angry.
Fortunately for me, I took some time to be alone – I switched off from the world for a couple of days and I tried to find myself again. I quietened my head and I began to let go of the anger. I drew on every resource I had internally and after a couple of days I began to reach out to friends. A text message to say I was ok, a quick chat at school drop off with a friend who has a beautiful soul that I knew I could feed off and a debrief of the book and how it made me feel with a dear colleague and friend whom I trust unequivocally, all started to help.
And then I started to get back into life. Back into work. A walk in nature with a special friend, reaching out to touch base with friends just to hear their voices and hear their stories of the past weeks, and again I began being present and enjoying my beautiful girls and the innocent joy and wonder they radiate.
Today, as I sit here and type this, I feel whole again. Not unaffected but not broken. I have realised that whilst the book was my trigger, my tipping point, I had been working myself too hard, trying to please too many people. I’d been challenging my faith by listening to podcasts of true crime that in isolation were really interesting insights into the human psyche but compounded with my busy lifestyle were breaking down my spirit and hope, and I had been getting drawn into a deficit mindset environment with a client that I would normally have counteracted with positivity and an asset approach.
I knew that book by Jane Yolen, one of my favorites. Love the illustrations. #Jeopardy
— Deborah Edwards-Oñoro (@redcrew) February 23, 2021
I hadn’t been looking after myself. And I broke.
So today, on RUOK Day, I am feeling great, but I am also feeling extremely grateful. Grateful for my family whom I am privileged to walk alongside every day. Grateful for my friends who are the best sounding boards and safety nets to catch me when I’m falling. And grateful for my own internal strength that carries me through and has been built through my journey and life experiences so far.
I know this experience of feeling dark is small compared to others, but I wanted to share it – perhaps to help me, and maybe to help another.That we are speaking of our struggles openly, honestly and without fear, I hope, means we will see a brighter future and one where everyone feels connected, supported and valued.