Vague ramblings

One reason why, two words that matter

Posted in Life, Personal, Personal stuff by Ian Cundell on 24 April, 2017

I don’t know who did it.

It is likely that she (or he) was younger than me, since Carr Saunders Hall was mainly full of undergrads and I was one of the small group of postgrads; it is probable that he (or she) was one of those who volunteered to staff the front desk out-of-hours; I suppose it is possible that it was one of my friends, but really they are the sort of people who if they have something to say about me, would pull me aside and say it to me. But I don’t know.

What “it” was, was this:

Smack in the middle of exam revision time, I wandered into Carr Saunders and the woman on the desk (a fellow student – I can still picture her: quite tall, short red hair, but for the life of me cannot recall her name. Maybe it was her.) said “Ian, Ed has said can you pop up and see him.”

Ed was Ed Kuska, former US Marine (or so the legend went) and Warden of Carr Saunders Hall. I can’t recall if I went straight up to the warden’s residence, but when I got there Ed sat me down and told me that somebody had reported concern for my welfare and, in particular, that I might be a suicide risk.

Now, you need to know that I was very aware of how eccentrically I acted at exam time. I was (and am) pathologically incapable of sitting and thinking. I need to pace. I preferred to revise in the bustle of the bar, rather than the silence of the library or solitude of my room. This restlessness drove a lot of wandering the corridors deep in thought, at all hours of the day and night, randomly stopping wherever I happened to be, to write something down or look something up. Reading that back it doesn’t seem anywhere near as bonkers as it looked in real life. Anybody from Kingston or Francis Bacon would have recognised it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that people at LSE had never seen me in exam mode.

I was not – and never have been – a suicide risk, at least in part because I have seen the devastating impact of suicide. I explained to Ed that it was usual exam behaviour for me and that I would be right back to normal after the last exam (or 13 hours sleep after the last exam, as it turned out). I was somewhere on a slightly wonky spectrum between embarrassed and amused.

In the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter:

I have thought about this occasionally over the years, especially when I was in chronic clinical depression and when I was finally being treated – it was a little spark in the gloom . And I’ve thought about it quite a bit over the past couple of weeks, having watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

This is an unflinching and harrowing tale of the events that led to Hannah Baker, a high school junior, taking her own life. Katherine Langford’s stellar performance in the lead made me cry for a fictional character for the first time in a very long time. I think anyone who cares about people should watch it – not just in school but in any cohort, be it college, the workplace, the armed forces. It is not easy viewing. It goes to the very darkest of dark, dark places. But I think it might be important, because it is the first time I’ve seen these issues taken on so directly, entirely without the cloak of metaphor.

I still am somewhere on the ’embarrassed-amused’ spectrum. But there is something that has muscled in as the three or so decades since have passed: I am grateful.

And this is my one reason why: That a nameless member of my cohort saw something alarming and took action to ensure it was dealt with, took action to protect me.

How fucking cool is that? And how likely is it that my mystery benefactor has, in those three decades, done much the same for other people in real distress and in urgent need of somebody to give a damn? Pretty much odds on, I’d say.

So, in the vanishingly unlikely event that you stumble upon this tale and recognise yourself, these are my two words that matter: thank you.



Mork calling Orson: report on a terrible disease

Posted in Life by Ian Cundell on 12 August, 2014

I wouldn’t ordinarily respond off the cuff to something as brutal as a suicide, but the instant I saw the news tonight, this scene from Mork & Mindy came into my head. It seems apt to cite it in full.

Mork & Mindy, Season 1, Episode 21 ‘In Mork We Trust‘:

Orson: The report, Mork.
Mork: This week I discovered a terrible disease called loneliness.
Orson: Do many people on Earth suffer from this disease?
Mork: Oh yes sir, and how they suffer. One man I know suffers so much he has to take a medication called bourbon, even that doesn’t help very much because then he can hear paint dry.
Orson: Does bed rest help?
Mork: No because I’ve heard that sleeping alone is part of the problem. You see, Orson, loneliness is a disease of the spirit. People who have it think that no one cares about them.
Orson: Do you have any idea why?
Mork: Yes sir you can count on me. You see, when children are young, they’re told not to talk to strangers. When they go to school, they’re told not to talk to the person next to them. Finally when they’re very old, they’re told not to talk to themselves, who’s left?
Orson: Are you saying Earthlings make each other lonely?
Mork: No sir I’m saying just the opposite. They make themselves lonely, they’re so busy looking out for number one that there’s not enough room for two.
Orson: It’s too bad everybody down there can’t get together and find a cure.
Mork: Here’s the paradox sir because if they did get together, they wouldn’t need one. Isn’t that zen-like?

Obviously it was the emboldened line that has lodged in my mind ever since 1979, and I don’t really agree with the pay-off. One can be desperately lonely in a crowded room. But often the simplest lines are the ones with staying power.

Anyway, if you have never seen the Robin Williams live at the New York Metropolitan Opera performance from 1986, then track it down. You will know what it is to be in pain – real, full-on, have to pause it to recover pain –  from laughter.


Some things don’t discriminate

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 15 May, 2013

Nothing to add to what Katherine Welby, daughter of the Archbishop of Canterbury, says here, yet there are still people who will say “She’s attractive, intelligent and well connected – how can she be depressed?”:

(apologies for the slight frustration that you don’t seem to be able to embed these videos)

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Of metaphors and monsters

Posted in Musing, Personal by Ian Cundell on 6 June, 2012

My friend and colleague David Chippendale committed suicide on 7 March. Many knew he was in a bad way, but sadly none realised how close to the edge he was.

His loss prompted me to come clean about my own situation – more chronic and unrelenting than the severe bipolar that claimed David – and Estates Gazettes was kind enough to give me a platform in the magazine and online.

For all the many ways in which writers have been able to explore depression (and other mental illnesses), in the end the reality is anything but metaphorical.

Please read the article very carefully: Click here.

A little light for the blind and invisible monster

Posted in Life, Personal by Ian Cundell on 27 November, 2010

It was rather nice, last week, to see that Vincent and the Doctor, an episode from this year’s series of Doctor Who was short-listed for the MIND Mental Health Media Awards in the drama category. Unsurprisingly it lost out to the outstanding Karen storyline fromShameless, but I really was pleased that Vincent got noticed.

It was a wonderful (if that is the word) look at depression, with powerful performances from Matt Smith (The Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy) and Tony Curran (Vincent). It didn’t chicken out, with Gillan’s portrayal of heartache outstanding, as Amy realises that her efforts to save Vincent from despair have failed, will always fail.

I can only assume that Richard Curtis, who wrote the script, has up-close and personal experience of depression, because even the most throw-away elements of the story felt written from truth.

It wasn’t remotely maudlin, and was wholly appropriate for the young audience Doctor Who serves, and if only a few of them come to appreciate what the monster of the week represented, then the story will have served Who‘s fans well.

Because the blind and invisible monster doesn’t care how well-off you are, how brilliant you are or how great your achievements are. When it comes after you, there is nothing more terrifying or indifferent to your pain.

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