In this first of a series of occasional posts by guest contributors, my friend and fellow Dark Angel, STUART DELVES, picks up the story of Careless from last week …
Last November, having taken a brief from a client in The Strand, I went to the Grayson Perry exhibition Who Are You? at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition consists of fourteen pieces – tapestries, sculptures and Perry’s signature ceramic vases – and is ingeniously spaced out over numerous galleries, each piece interjected amongst more traditional portraits.
There were a number of pieces that really struck me: Comfort Blanket, a brilliant snapshot of Britain today, The Ashford Hijab, depicting a Kent woman’s journey to the Muslim faith and the one that hit me in the solar plexus – Memory Jar. This was a vase portraying Alzheimer’s. On the front of the vase was an elderly, obviously loving, couple. Perry’s caption explained that the man had been an eminent judge. The woman was his wife. He was the Alzheimer’s sufferer.
As I moved around to see the image on the back of the vase I was confronted with the figure of a fierce-eyed demon in flight, wielding an over-sized pair of gleaming scissors. He was slicing up hundreds and hundreds of photographs, family snaps, wedding photographs, the lovers in their youth. These photographs, of course, represented the couple’s memories. And, as the artist’s caption went on to explain (and I so appreciate an artist’s straightforward statement rather than the all-too-often pseudo intellectual bullshit) Alzheimer’s often destroys not just the life of the sufferer but the life of the person (and people) closest. The increasing inability to relive and share these precious memories with her husband leaves his wife doubly bereft.
It’s an extraordinary piece of work. Powerful. Revelatory. In that moment I got it: the human devastation. And I welled with tears.
Suicide and the mental suffering and depression that leads to it, is another brutal phenomenon that affects more than the subject. I’m thankful to my good friend and colleague Jamie for flagging up the film project Careless here on A Few Kind Words last week. And for allowing me to continue the story a wee bit on my first (and hopefully not last) guest appearance on this unique blog-spot.
Jamie’s blog last week provoked some heartfelt responses and a number of pledges for which I and my wife Catriona are most grateful. If you haven’t followed the link to the short film please do (here). You will catch a glimpse of a young dancer, Evie, dancing ecstatically. She was a beautiful young woman and a fantastic dancer brimming with spirit. Catriona coached and captured that moment of joy on film. It’s an image that will endure – most significantly for those she has left to grieve. Evie’s tragic death of course affected not just her life but the lives of her parents and dozens of friends. Her mother, Frieda, especially, who herself suffers from MS and has only recently come through brain cancer.
We’ve had many emails already with stories of how mental health challenges (thankfully not all ending in suicide) have afflicted individual lives and families. It seems to touch so many people. Many more than I had presumed. We’ve heard someone say that she thinks one in three people suffer from mental health issues.
The film Catriona plans to make will be aimed primarily at young people – to help them realise they’re by no means alone and to help them feel they can talk out about it. The aim is also to show it to carers within the health service, and to government, in an attempt to improve funding and provision of services.
Importantly, it won’t just be about the problem but will offer thoughts on solutions and preventative actions. But also, and this is a bold also, and an also in bold, and why I started with Grayson Perry, it will be a documentary made by an artist and will endeavour to show the world of depression and anxiety, not just talk about it, in order to evoke empathy and recognition.
I believe in the artistic integrity of my wife and the creative contribution that my daughter Caitlin and son Jamie will make to this film. People have told us that this is an amazing and brave project. It will be. But we need more pledges. Please watch the film (here) and know that even a tenner (or a fiver if you’re strapped) will help make this happen. As Mr Jauncey once said to me about writing a novel: brick by brick.
Be a brick.