Signal failure and emotional mayhem


This is a wonderful time of the year. Spring is slugging it out with winter as both seasons vie for the last say on a seemingly daily basis. It snowed here at the weekend but today, Tuesday, I have the French balcony door open and sweet random bird song is providing a perfect contrast to the mechanical tick from my office clock.

Crocuses (croci?) and snowdrops have poked through the ground and the prices of holiday flights to warmer climes are rising faster than an Apollo take-off. Bees will soon be new garden buzzwords. All is well in the world of renewal and fresh beginnings.

But not for everyone.

I was recently told that ‘signal failure’ was a euphemism used by train operators for track suicides. It sounds very plausible. And very apt. Because aside from the obvious tactlessness of announcing the true situation, a death by suicide must surely be the result of some kind of signal failure. Someone failed to communicate their despair or someone failed to read the signals. Or both. Maybe a helping hand was offered and rejected. Misinterpreted?

Spring can be particularly hard for the sick at heart.

We’ve all been there. Not necessarily suicidal, mercifully, but so low we see through blank eyes.

Years ago, I walked along Strandvägen boulevard in Stockholm. It’s one of the most beautiful promenades in the world with a spectacular panoramic view of the downtown Stockholm waterscape.

But that day, the sky was grey. When I weaved my way along the cobbled footpath by the shore, the seagulls were too loud, the young couples too slow. So what if the trees were beginning to bud. What difference would summer make if there is no one special to share it with?

Fresh out of university, I spent that summer filling my hours with as much work as I could find, and spent the remaining hours relentlessly rehashing the run up to our break up. Which signals had I missed? And which signals did I subconsciously pick up when riding the subway, say, that suddenly pitched a reasonable mood into melancholy mayhem with seemingly no rhyme or reason? And would the pain ever end? Emotions are unpredictable beasts.

But I was lucky.

Cushioned by a small group of caring friends, who allowed me to wallow or dragged me off to dinner with equal aplomb, I slowly returned to the land of the emotional living. I got to rage and rally. Relapse and start the healing process all over again.

A relapse always felt like a defeat. Until one wise gal pal pointed out that people were well within their rights to break a leg twice and receive help on both occasions. Why was it any less permissible to hit rock bottom twice emotionally? An excellent point. And well worth taking to heart.

All this, of course, was over thirty years ago and time does heal most wounds. Not necessarily completely and most definitely with scarring. But we recover and slowly move on.

Assuming someone has read our signals correctly and offered a helping hand.
Which takes two. Someone to emit the signal and someone to receive it.

I’m in no way setting myself up as an expert or guru here. I’m simply advocating that sadness and depression are normally surmountable but require help.

Speak up if you feel you’re going under. To a pal, a parent, a partner, a doctor. In no particular order. Think of it as a broken leg. Or broken wing. You need help to fly again.

Sure, there are always people worse off. And counting our blessings is always a worthwhile exercise to counter self-pity and sadness. But quite frankly, these kinds of rational thought tend to be few and far between on dark nights. Sometimes, your black hole is simply too deep to discern the light at the top. So send up a signal.

And likewise, if you are trusted with a signal, respond. Either through own means or by encouraging the sad soul to seek professional help. There’s plenty out there. Help him or her to find it.

Nobody breezes through life without tears. Not if they are really living.

But if we keep our emotional radar on and pick up each other’s signals, then maybe, just maybe, the world will be a warmer and safer place for more of us.

And the trains will stay on track.

Happy Spring.

Showing 4 comments
  • Linda

    Wonderful insight presented in language that conjures images both accessible and wonderous. Well done!

  • RuthKj

    Thank you so much, Linda. Your comment warmed my heart. Xo

  • Moyra Gough

    A fine piece of writing, and absolutely spot on.

  • RuthKj

    Thanks so much, Moyra!

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