Tag Archives: TED talks

The savagery of schizophrenia

22 Oct

I recently wrote a blog post on Elyn Saks’ TED talk about living with schizophrenia.

Here are some truly beautiful, sad-making and true words about the same condition. This is a must-read article by Caitlin Moran (and – if you are in a rush, read anyway for it won’t take you long).

I love how words can be a force of life: a rampage against darkness or an acceptance of this darkness, an articulation of truth or its denial.

Words can heal. And hurt. Encourage. Or destroy.

Words can create. And they can shut down.

I love reading the words of true wordsmiths. These ones made me want to cry. And that is good – for they reveal truth, love and life in all its messiness and ambiguity.

Thank you Caitlin.


We all struggle

11 Oct

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day.

Yesterday, a very brave friend of mine spoke out about being diagnosed with bipolar earlier this year.

Yesterday I was reminded of Elyn Saks Ted Talk – one of the most open, compelling narratives I have ever heard from someone living with a long-term, isn’t-going-to-go-away mental illness.

Elyn Sacks is a legal scholar. A highly-qualified, highly-respected woman who does not want to be defined by her condition. A woman who doesn’t want to be labelled ‘schizophrenic’, preferring to be understood as ‘a person with schizophrenia’.

I love this distinction. It helps us all. Who, after all, wants to be defined by their struggles or scars? Who wants to look in the mirror and see the label ‘depressive’ or ‘loner’ or ‘addict’ or ‘loser’ stamped on their forehead (and all over their heart – where no-one else sees it)?

Who wants to be ‘the other’ when we are all, actually, in the same boat?

As Elyn says – so beautifully – “there’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life … we are people, not diagnoses”.

How true.

Yet how we forget this: that we are people, each of us brimming with hopes and fears, dreams, struggles and potential. We are people who need to be loved, accepted and included. We are people. Human beings. And all of us struggle – some with physical ailments, some with emotional heartache and others with mental illness.

Let us not forget. We are all human, whatever our struggles.

We might try to cover them up. Yet we all struggle.

We all struggle. Maybe every day should be World Mental Health Day.

If your life was a book…

4 Feb

… and you were writing the story, how would you want it to turn out?

This is the question Amy Purdy asked herself, as a 19-year old aspirational snow boarder whose legs had both been amputated above the knee. I love this TED talk. I love Amy’s visible emotions as she speaks of the illness that led to her double amputation 11 years earlier. I love her candour in talking about the depression that followed this life-defining event. I love her bravery, courage and determination. Determination to carry on writing her story, to carry on dreaming – in spite of her new limitations.

I don’t usually like seeing people cry, but I really appreciated Amy’s struggle to hold back the tears in this talk. Why? Because, in spite of the fact she is publicly speaking on a stage and potentially broadcast to an audience of millions, she still remains in touch with her emotions, she still recalls the pain of her loss. She is not a robot who overcome huge obstacles to become the world’s best adaptive snow boarder. She is not an emotion-less champion. She is a true champion. A champion who has stared failure in the eye, and kept staring until she found the inner strength to get back on her snowboard.

So thank you Amy for your courage, tenacity and hope. You have inspired me today.

Swimming through jellyfish

24 Jan

This is an absolutely fantastic TED talk by Diana Nyad. Approaching the age of 60, she felt profound regret at the regrets that had dominated her life. Not wanting to live the rest of her life in submission to her fears, she decided she was going to be the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. No small feat!

Despite all her training, mental focus, physical fitness and determination – she came up against a formidable opponent, only two hours into her swim. The box jellyfish. One of the most venomous creatures on the planet. Diana was stung multiple times, yet kept swimming as treatment was administered. She could hardly breathe and was in agonising pain. Yet she kept swimming. The following day, she was stung again. She kept swimming. But on day three, her body gave up. She had managed to swim for another 38 hours following the initial attack (an extraordinary feat in itself), but now her body was giving up. She had no choice but to abandon her swim. Abandon her dream. As she says, “the dream was crushed”.

One of the reasons I love this talk is that Diana’s “failure” took place only one month before she stood on this prestigious stage, talking about her defeat at the tentacles of the box jellyfish. She was not standing there in victory, having subsequently conquered this swim, having conquered (or avoided!) the jellyfish. Instead she stands in front of her (potentially global) audience in humility, in defeat, in grace. She has no easy answers. There are no easy answers. No quick retorts to life’s deepest disappointments.

Following the crushing of a dream, there may never be a later “success”, a moment where disappointment fades away in the face of subsequent joy. Hope may never be resurrected. The dream may never become reality. This is the painful, often humiliating reality. Well-meant platitudes – “maybe it was never meant to be”, “something better will come along”, “one day it will all make sense” – are often just annoying, sometimes jarringly insensitive. You see, there are no guarantees in life. No certainties that one day life will bring victory, rather than defeat.

How do we respond to the death of a dream? The sense of failure? The loss of meaning? Well, one day, we might come out fighting. As Diana said, “the ocean is still there”. But maybe we won’t. Maybe we will never truly know “why?”, maybe we will always feel a little bit disappointed. And that’s ok. Is is possible to “find grace in the face of defeat”? To embrace grace rather than bitterness (although it’s ok, and probably healthy, to be angry for a while); grace rather than fear (although we all get afraid sometimes); grace rather than a need to succeed. Grace may mean trying again, or it may mean letting go. It will probably mean embracing failure. It will probably mean allowing the dream to die, whether for a while or forever. It will probably mean finding enough grace to continue pursuing grace, whatever may happen next.

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