Friday, 20 May 2011

My Melpomene


Concealing mask,
Viable task,
War paint, top coat,
A facial basque.
Powdered face,
Saving grace,
Elegance, perfection,
And knowing her place.
Obscuring vision,
Contours, emotions,
All crafted with precision.
Painted on,
Realism gone,
Eloquent, beautified,
The show must go on…

In ancient Greek mythology Melpomene is depicted as the muse of tragedy, grief and sorrow, yet when broken down through etymology, “Melpomene” means “to sing” or “the one that is melodious”. Music is powerful tool, encompassing the power to change emotions and indeed lives.


I met my Melpomene at a dark time in my own life, though she went on to teach me great things about real pain and survival.

Upon first impression Melpomene was a vivacious and bubbly soul, I met her in group therapy for persons with particularly dangerous self destructive behaviours. I had to admit that I questioned intently why she was there as she seemed so light and alive. It took less than an hour to understand that this was her tragic mask, painted on with immaculate precision and of diamond durability. I have still, to this day, never seen her take it off in person.

Most of us experience a time in our lives we’d rather not have gone through, there are unfortunately too many people that have suffered abused at the hands of others, but Melpomene was an exceptional case. At the time I met her she had recently broken free of over 20 years of living with constant torture. From a young age Melpomene was denied the most basic of human rights. She was brainwashed into believing that this was her own fault and as a result was too terrified of what might happen if she acted differently to what she was told, objected to her treatment or breathed a word to anyone.

Yet to speak to Melpomene you would have absolutely no idea. Not that it was a contest, but it was apparent that she had suffered far worse than any of us ever had in that group, yet it was her that brought the sunshine to the table, it was she that could always find a positive to each problem we presented. She unwaveringly offered her support to the others both inside scheduled therapy hours and on the end of a phone outside them.

Her strength is incredible but her pain frighteningly real. In the initial stages of knowing her, I put a lot of her durability down to denial. Then she began to reveal more of what had happened and her vulnerability began to show itself in other ways. She’d often have to leave the group to vomit or would be unable to attend at all, as anxiety would prevent her from leaving the house. These were clear indicators of just how much her history was affecting her, yet she’d never show it to anyone else and she was never unavailable to anyone else. She understood the pain of others in the group and she never dismissed our worries, though they were vastly diminished compared to hers. She would write me little notes in my therapy folder or send me silly text messages under the table when things got heavy or too tough. She made the whole experience so much less daunting for me despite her own turmoil.

Steadily I watched Melpomene battle through the treatment program, working through exercises that she was terrified of doing. Task that seemed simple enough to the rest of us such as listening to music or going for a calming walk alone in the beginning were nearly impossible for her. Though she refused to let this beat her. She battled on and gave absolutely everything a go, she climbed mountains in that year and I was in awe. There was no denying how difficult it was for her, we could tell when she’d not slept for three days, when her weight dropped due to sheer anxiety or when she couldn’t make it in due to poor health. Yet she never once gave up, ran away or felt sorry for herself and she never stopped smiling.

A severe agoraphobic she went from not being able to go out or be in her home without someone with her to being able to go out to a pub and social events and even begin to build a relationship with a partner.

Melpomene was a huge inspiration and I have never lost sight of that when I feel too afraid to do something. The comparison of her fight and the enlightenment of her sheer courage made me want to succeed. It was tragic to understand that she would perhaps never be able to do a lot of the things I would be able to when we got better. Her age and general physical health prevented that but I knew mine didn’t. Whilst I wanted my own well being I also wanted to fight with her and share my achievements. I want to do all the things in my life in her honour and share my success - doing it always with her in mind.

After we were discharged from the group we have remained good friends. Regrettably, we now see much less of each other, time, life and circumstance reduce the opportunity but there isn’t a single day that she isn’t in my mind and heart. From sharing a battle, we now share triumphs. I cried when she told me that she’d managed to let herself eat fast food for the first time in 25 years and had been to the cinema by herself. This was relative and an equal achievement to me gaining a place at university. She tells me frequently that she’s so proud of me and I’m her shining little star, but it was massively thanks to her that I was able to do these things at all. If it were not for my Melpomene and without her courage, wisdom and incomparable belief in a life worth living, I would not have been as driven or inspired to move my life forward in the way I did.

She lives as an example to us all, that nothing is impossible to accomplish if you work hard enough at it and never give up hope. She has achieved more in life than some of the most celebrated people in the world, but she does not want praise, nor does she seek approval or sympathy - just peace. More incredible is how she now uses that new found confidence to help others in need working with other service users and reaching wider by posting motivational videos on YouTube to those without access to treatment.

My Melpomene continues to be a powerful anchor of comparison without intention, without condescending or competition. She epitomised tragedy in many ways, yet brought to my life great beauty with all the melody and mellifluence of the most heart rendering of ballads.

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