We live in a culture where many people find it difficult to communicate their feelings. It is a culture where, often, instead of talking, people hurt themselves or others or suffer in silence. They are imprisoned in their own minds, while those around do not see them, ignore them or are preoccupied with their own burdens.
This week, Cindy Dawson completed her suicide, just weeks after she was found lying unconscious near her dead husband. I feared for her when I learned about the details surrounding her husband’s death and how she responded, but I also hoped that she would not be another name added to the long list of Guyanese who transitioned by way of suicide. I hoped she would not be one of many who will fade in the forgotten places of our minds, only to be remembered when we are once again reminded that people are suffering for various reasons or when someone does something similar. I hoped that she would have received the help she needed to cope. One report said that she had received treatment for depression and malnourishment at the Georgetown Hospital.
Still, she has left a society where many have become desensitised. There are people who publicise pictures and videos of the bloodied and dying and the dead with no thought or care as to how it could affect the family and friends and even strangers – like the image of Cindy Dawson hanging, which one news site chose to post this week only to remove it after an outcry.
In discussing the story with several people, none were surprised at the conclusion. There was a collective agreement that the young woman was troubled – traumatised – by the demise of her husband, which was evident by the fact that she fainted when she discovered he was dead. She could not imagine life without him, the evidence suggests. Some would say that she was young and could have found another husband. But how can we judge her while knowing that often when we are in trouble we do not have the coping skills required to deal with our issues and no trusted resources?
Many people do not trust counsellors because there are those who would have created the mistrust. Cases where counsellors would have left their patient files to be read by John Q. Public or discussed what the vulnerable would have divulged in confidence are not unfamiliar in Guyana. But there are also good counsellors who live by the ethics of their profession. Still, the mistrust turns many away from seeking their services or prevents them from sharing their truth in cases where they do see a counsellor.
The more I thought about the story, the more I thought about how much I would have loved to have had a conversation with Cindy. Was there anything I could have said that would have helped her choose life, I wondered. During the time she spent with relatives, I wondered what their conversations were like. Her brother said that he did not realise that she was contemplating suicide.
Many people underestimate the power of conversation – the power that lies in the act of us being able to honestly communicate our feelings; the space that dismantles pride or fear or the shame, causing us to admit what is truly in our hearts. I discovered the power of those honest conversations in my own life just a few years ago. The healing not only surprised me but made me question why I had not been brave enough to admit earlier how much I was hurting. I, too, was once imprisoned by anger, fear and loss. The death of my father when I was seven left a void in my soul. It was as a result of missing a father’s love, the many questions surrounding his death, and, worst of all, it was facing the agony alone. I was too afraid to admit the internal turmoil or to show my tears; too afraid to truly share with others the despair that kept me imprisoned all those years; too afraid to be told that I needed to forget it.
I attended a workshop a few years ago and because of the conversations that took place, I began my healing. I felt safe because I felt I could share my truth with the people in the room and not be judged. I felt that I was part of a group where others were also working through their pain and so I was not alone. The anger and fear that I had felt all those years began to subside and for the first time I began to understand my father’s struggles. The silence that surrounded him had been broken and it was time for me to be free.
I could not deceive myself into thinking that I had been completely restored in that one workshop. What had happened was that the healing had started and it was up to me to continue to take steps in an effort to become whole again. I discovered that the more I expressed myself, the stronger I became.
And it was like fate was also saying I should speak when in December, 2015, I was contacted by an overseas-based Guyanese, Selwyn Collins, to participate in a series he was having on the suicide rate in Guyana. The work I was doing at that time was part of the response. In January of 2016, I appeared on the programme Conversations with Selwyn, which is a WebTV talk show that made its debut in 2012. It was not until after the show aired that I realised I had reached another milestone in resolving my issues. I recognised the importance of having such platforms, especially for Guyanese who are burdened with many issues but no knowledge of how to cope.
The workshop I attended and shows like Conversations with Selwyn are necessary steps in our collective healing. It is interventions such as those that need the attention of the masses and to be supported.
Could a workshop like the one I attended have helped to save Cindy Dawson’s life? Would a platform like Conversations with Selwyn help her talk through the pain and eventually realise that life was worth living?
There is the power of healing in conversations. Unfortunately, for Cindy, it is too late, but her story is another lesson that speaks to the fact that we are a maimed society and many of our citizens cannot cope. We must remember Cindy’s name and the many others and let them be a reminder that our work is constant and if we suspect that someone may be dying on the inside, start a conversation.