Dark Blue;

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”! 

In his book “Dark Blue”, Shane Carthy is a man on a mission.  Carthy is a young, gifted sportsman yet he tells the story of a psychological battle with depression.  The sub-title of the book makes this clear; “The Despair behind the Glory, my journey back from the Edge”. 

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”!  The dedication at the beginning of the book emphasises this point clearly, “To all of those who are suffering in silence in the hope that these words might help the light to shine”.  

Shane Carthy grew up in Portmarnock village, on the North side of Dublin City, where my own mother and sister’s family are now living.  My nephew and nieces attend the same primary school that he attended.  My nieces are in the same club of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA).  It is clear that the Carthy family was a happy one and Shane and his sisters, Stephanie, Mairead and Michelle were loved and cared for by their parents, Gerry and Angela.

They were a “sporty” family and Shane was encouraged to try different sports. He was good at them all.  He had to choose between soccer and Gaelic football.  After he chose Gaelic he played for his local club. Later he was selected for the Dublin Minor Team and then for the Dublin Senior Team.  This all happened while he was still at secondary school, so he became a hero and a legend to many other young people.  He followed the advice of his Dad; “anything you do, do to the best of your ability” but not that of his Mum; “you’ve got to broaden your horizons.  Open your mind and see what life has to offer outside of football”.

Even while enjoying this success, Shane began to notice that his mood changed dramatically and suddenly from time to time.  “Dark clouds” would come causing him to feel desperately sad and disconnected.  For a long time, he held back his tears.  He found it increasingly difficult to live up to the image that people had of him.  His grandparents died just at the time that he had decided to tell his parents so he delayed telling them.  The panic attacks got worse.  Sometimes he felt like his “inner demons” were telling him to end his life.  Later he would learn the words “suicide ideation”.  He wept more and more often.  He tried to harm himself. He never harmed anyone else.

Eventually, after a climatic two weeks of psychological chaos amidst sporting success, he told his mum about his sickness.  Then his parents and sisters and friends rallied around to help him.  He needed to receive psychiatric care in St. Patrick’s Mental Hospital.  He stayed there for eleven weeks. He was on the “secure ward” twice.  He slowly recovered his mental balance and perspective but now he was shy and reserved in meeting people whereas before he had pretended to be confident.

He explains how “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” (CBT) and the “Young Adult Program” (YAP) were used in his treatment.  The Psychologists and Nurses helped him acquire more tools to deal with the depression when he felt his mood changing and the dark clouds coming.  It was interesting to hear Shane describe his feelings as he started the YAP program.  “Will they judge me, will they think I’m weird, will they think I’m different”?

While Shane does not really share much about the content of his conversations with the Psychologists and Psychiatrists, it seems that he began to listen to his mother’s advice which he had previously ignored.  At one moment during his recovery, he interrupted his father who was chatting on about sport.  He asked his Dad about growing up in East Wall.  (East Wall is an old working class community of Dublin which used to be home to dockers and railway workers). His dad, surprised at first, responded.

Even after he left the hospital to return to “normal life”, Shane was not afraid to seek further help when he felt he needed it.  He added more time to his “Mindfulness” meditation periods.   When he travelled to meet the Psychologist again, he called this his “top-up”!

I am left wondering what would happen if Shane Carthy met with Scotsman, Eric Liddell, whose story was represented in the film “Chariots of Fire”.  (Liddell refused to run his 100 metres heat in the 1924 Olympic games as it took place on a Sunday, which was the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day.  Another British athlete let him run the 400 metres race instead).  Would a conversation with Liddell remind Shane Carthy of what his ancestors may have whispered to him long ago about God who loves and redeems him.  

If he heard Eric Liddell talk about his baptism, about his dying and rising to a new life, would Shane Carthy hear this as a new message or would he remember it as an old truth that he has not yet paid attention to? Could his life journey become more meaningful and his resolve to help others broaden, if he developed a personal relationship with God?

The Choice

It turns out that all the positive thinking tricks that Edith Eger used to survive in the camp with her sister Magda are not so helpful later on as she tries to cope with the after effects of trauma and prevent it from harming her children.

This Christmas, I received the gift of a book which I will count as a priceless treasure.  It broaches the issue of psychological trauma head on and comes out on the other side with a human way of processing things.  The book is called “The Choice” and it was authored by Edith Eger, a Hungarian Jewess, who survived Auchwitz (just about) and took a long time to tell her story.  Her book was only published in 2017.

 

When I arrived into the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand during 1986, the malevolent presence of the Khmer Rouge was still tangible.  Fear and insecurity crippled people’s thinking processes.  I remember listening to stories where a family member routinely described the death and disappearance of other family members in a passionless, robotic manner which prevented any real sharing in sadness or grief.

People were still surviving as isolated monads and were only slowly readjusting from horrific trauma to relative peace.

Over the past few years, I have read many books which have broached these issues in various ways.  Among those which have lingered in the memory longest are “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zuzak and “In the Shadow of the Banyan” by Vaddey Ratner.

What really impressed me about Edith Eger’s life-story in “The Choice” was its rigorous honesty in self-examination.  I found a resonance similar to testimonies of people who have recovered from long-term debilitating addictions or violent abuse of different types.  There is no hint of false romanticism on these pages.

Once the young Edith is asked by Dr. Mengele to perform a ballet dance for him which she does even though she knows that it was he who had ordered the killing of her mother.     Eger describes how the malevolent power of evil infiltrated the lives of the innocent in Auchwitz and somehow managed to remain buried in painful memories inside her mind that were never aired or shared.  Later panic attacks would occur in response to sounds or sights like sirens or train carriages etc.

Eger also describes life in Communist Hungary after “liberation”.  She explains her dramatic and brave decision to emigrate to America with nothing, rather than to Israel where the family wealth had already been sent.  Her husband Bela followed her.  She works in manual labour for a few years like so many other immigrants.  Slowly she finds her way to study and eventually to Psychiatry.  Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” played a role in her spiritual journey.

However it is clear in her personal care for the individual “troubled” patients, that she finds her own way.  Firstly, she helps these individuals to understand themselves more deeply.  Then, secondly, she comes to understand herself more deeply by thinking about what they said.  She argues that we need to recognize how both “feelings” and “thinking” are influencing or controlling our behavior patterns.   This process of sharing and analysis can itself be traumatic as the feelings can be explosive or dangerous.  However only by a patient sharing and re-sharing of these feelings in a human relationship can we rediscover wholeness in our wounded humanity.

The thinking patterns also need to be analysed and examined.  It is interesting to note that the most important question to be answered deep down is “What do I really want”.  Once I have crossed the stormy sea of tumultuous feelings and so can see clearly what I really want and am striving for, the next question falls into place easily.  Are my present behavior patterns helping or hindering my journey towards what I want or not?  In most cases the answer is no. So change is required.  Hence “The Choice”.   It is mine to make and I have the power to make it.  No one else can make it for me.  While her perspective is medical and scientific, a remote faith perspective remains.  At one point Dr. Eger will say, “I do not just receive patients.  I feel that they are sent to me”.  When all else fails, she will pray.

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One of the most moving passages in the book is where the  mature Dr. Edith Eger returns to Auschwitz for a visit and remembers everything.  Here she describes her own actions and her own innocent mistake which resulted in the death of her mother.  Many Cambodians have shared with me their traumatic experiences during the Khmer Rouge time and how their family members died or were killed. Yet, I have not heard someone say “I really regret what I did during the Khmer Rouge time”.

The Khmer artist, Vann Nath, led a deep reflection on the evil of the Khmer Rouge in a documentary on the notorious S21 Tuol Slaeng prison.   It was hard for his former guards to take responsibility for their actions even under his gentle questioning.

The real strength of Dr. Eger’s book is that it invites to take a radical personal responsibility for our choices in life.  Each new day offer us a choice to grow up or to grow down.