Posts Tagged ‘Depression’

“My second life”: Matisse

Nov 10 2014

“My Second Life” 

 “Only what I created after my illness constitutes my real self: free, liberated.”

At the end of the Second War – in his 70’s, weak from major surgery, ill and dying with cancer, confined to a wheel chair, separated from his wife, his daughter a victim of torture in the war, and having lost his entire life’s work, Matisse retired to his bedroom. To refuse to live and to die?…Or? 



With scissors, paper, pins… for the next 12 years one room became the place where he lived and worked, where he slept and dreamed and where, when awaking, he found himself in the midst of his work.



“Be Heard, Be Touched, be Free”

matisse tree 

And the inspiration for The Cat and the Listening Tree



In 1951, Matisse completed a monumental four-year project of designing the interior, the glass windows and the decorations of the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence. The project was the result of the close friendship between Matisse and Sister Jacques-Marie. What was created horrified the Catholic hierarchy and also the anti-religious contemporary art world. Picasso is said to have recommended that Matisse should decorate a brothel instead.  

The cat walks in and curls up in the warm under the ‘Tree of Life’ window, ready to listen to all our stories – Be Heard, Be Touched, Be Free.

The moment my life changed forever – Ian.

Nov 10 2014

I lost my brother to suicide nearly 11 years ago. He was 34 and I worked with him in a fireplace business. When a job opportunity came along for me to work in America for 5 months, he told me to go and pursue my dreams. On coming home I found his business had gone bankrupt, he had lost his home, and his marriage had broken up. He had disappeared, and although a friend of his told me he had gone on holiday, five weeks had gone by and I was quite worried about him. I broke into his flat and found he hadn’t gone away at all. He had hung himself and he had been there for 5 weeks. There I was, with my brother hanging in front of me – and he was totally unrecognisable.  I was frozen to the spot.  It was a moment which changed my life forever. Police came and took me home. My wife Joy, to whom I am eternally grateful for sticking by me through my darkest days, took me to my Doctor and explained to him what I’d found. He recommended a long walk. If I’d started walking as he suggested, I might never have stopped (and yes, I changed my GP). Years of private counselling sessions which cost a fortune never satisfied my troubled mind. After 8 years I found SOBS completely by accident on the internet. I rang the helpline and I spoke to a woman called Jennie – another person to whom I’m eternally thankful. After speaking to Jennie, it felt like I’d been let out of prison – my own prison. I had found someone who truly understood my feelings and helped me feel normal again. I realised I wasn’t going mad after all. I was grieving for a brother who died tragically. I phoned Jennie on many occasions and travelled to her support group an hour and a half drive from my home. I am truly thankful to her and to SOBS and what they did for me. Looking back, I realise just how far I’ve come without truly knowing it. I know there are people like me out there who need help to cope with the awful feeling of isolation that suicide brings. I shout about SOBS to all who will listen.  John, another survivor, said, “It’s a long and winding road”. Never have truer words been spoken. Seeing the people who get involved with SOBS who are themselves on that road, and who want to give something back, gives me a good feeling.

“Have I ever got over my brother’s death?” The answer is no, I don’t think we ever do get over something like that, but we do move on – sometimes without even knowing it. I even feel we get life in a better perspective.


“The men in my family” by Max Mackay-James

Nov 10 2014

This is a story that lives in a photograph. It is an old picture in a dusty frame, and I think of it sitting on chests of drawers for many years with nobody bothering to look at it much. But now I do.

BobThe picture is of my father when he was fourteen. We all called him ‘Bob’ rather than Dad. I don’t know why, and I’ve never found out where the name came from. He wasn’t a Robert or anything – his real name was Peter. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone else whose Dad was called Bob. The name was a bit magical, it made him special in my eyes. 

It is a studio photograph and the picture is set up as a profile silhouette with the photographer lighting Bob’s face from the side against a black background. You can see the photographer’s name at the bottom on the right – Noelfreda (with the accent on the ‘e’). And you can also just see the date on the left – 1930 (which is how I know he was fourteen years old when the photograph was taken). 

He is wearing a white peaked hat, and there are markings on his epaulette signifying that he is a Royal Navy cadet. I imagine the formal photograph was taken to mark his completion of the first part of his education and training to become a naval officer. Perhaps he is wearing the uniform for the first time. 

So It captures an important transition moment in my father’s life, and his rite of passage from boyhood education to young adult life. It is one of the many things I love about this photograph. I don’t know if the photographer asked Bob to tilt his head forward for the photograph or he chose to do this himself. Whatever I also love his humility in this gesture of looking down. 

The young man has passed through the cave of darkness and is emerging into the light. I get a timeless quality, the sun is forever rising in front of my father, even if he does not wish at this moment to raise his head to look directly at it. It always gives me a feeling of confidence: here is my father as my humble guide across the years. Even now I am old, indeed old enough to be Bob’s grandfather in this photograph, I still get this reassurance from him, from the youth entering adult life in humility with head bowed, and forever showing me the way. 

Except by not looking at the light directly himself and looking down, and there is a second possibility. Perhaps he is not refusing to look towards the future. Maybe he is in a place of darkness and is refusing  to look at the past from where the light comes from the wreckage of history which is on fire. After all Bob was born in 1916. He is a child of the First World War. 

In this second possibility the flames of the past are burning in the darkness of the night. The future is being denied my father,  and his head is turned away from what is to come. Maybe this turning away is actually an act of wisdom on his part. In 1939 he was twenty three, and by then a Royal Navy officer on active service on destroyer warships. So he was pitched straight into the Second World War, and the ships he was on got involved in fighting, first in the Mediterranean and then on Russian convoys which accompanied merchant ships to Murmansk in 1942. 

I don’t know what he saw of the horrors of war, and like many men of his generation, and the one before, he refused to talk about it. I also never saw him wear his string of medals. Like in the photograph his head remained bowed and he kept silent. And each year in November around Remembrance Day I find myself conflicted in my feelings about his submissive gesture in the photograph. Yes, on the one hand in his submission I do feel a personal sense of pride for what he did, and the service and sacrifice of his generation which, I have no doubt, has given me a better life. And on the other hand, I hate his gesture of submission to war and the violent and destructive aspects of men, and the masculine systems of authority whose acts of aggression and folly lead to the death of so many, and wrecked and traumatised the lives of so many others. 

Above all I hate his silence, because of course when you don’t speak about shadow things – including the horrors of war – you can’t speak of other loving things as much as you want to either.

 And still it goes on today. As I get older, and especially during the Remembrance Day month, I want to speak out more and more passionately against these old aggressive and violent patterns of men and masculinity. I need this photograph of Bob to remind and show me how to be different. Inside we men are vulnerable – of course we are! Inside, my father say, men want none of these legacies of violence and long to be free of them. 

I use the photograph of Bob this way to cut through my sometimes conflicted feelings about the past, and what always shines through to me is the tenderness on my father’s young face. So I speak out because I know there is a better legacy from history for men than war. It is this tenderness. 

And so I also know Bob’s gift of love. 

*Remembrance: this is one of three stories I have to tell about men in my family who mean the most to me – Grandfather, Father, Brother.

Max Mackay-James 

Director of Conscious Ageing Trust – growing Diealog Communities to improve the experience and practice of all our ageing, dying, caring and loss. Men Beyond 50 is a special project in Diealog ( working to reduce isolation and loneliness in older men . 


Living Alone and Loneliness::II. Enjoying Our Own Company

Jun 13 2013

… Choosing to Live alone without having to feel lonely.

Making more social contact through meeting other people is an important way to reduce the feelings of inner loneliness which we can all feel from time to time, and research shows that the more social support we have the less are the risks of unhealthy outcomes (whether or not we live alone).

If we are living alone, purposively creating and enjoying the social networks we want are essential for our wellbeing (for more see Stepping UP and Stepping Out) . However, periods of time spent alone and on our own can be also very rewarding for their own sake, the source of great personal satisfaction, and provide opportunities for much contentment and pleasure. Try some of these ideas:

1. Plan and make a special visit to somewhere you have always wanted to go to.

2. Cook yourself a special meal using a more complicated recipe than usual and celebrate making a special evening to enjoy on your own (The meal doesn’t need to include alcohol)!

3. Learn techniques like meditation or join a yoga class. Mindfulness practice and paying attention to your breathing, especially at the level of the tummy and watching your abdomen move with the breath can help your mind become less busy and frantic in just 5 to 10 minutes. Developing this practice over time the periods of feeling inner peace and tranquility will increase, regardless of whether you are on your own or with other people. To find a properly trained mindfulness teacher near you, go to – recommended organisations include

4. Cultivate qualities of loving kindness towards others, but especially towards yourself (this can feel quite strange to begin with – particularly if you are used to being self-critical!). Also bring to mind and practice absent healing for people you care about, and then the world in general. This is the easiest and most natural thing to do using your own breath to create waves of warmth radiating out from your heart, and relaxing and opening the heart increases your sense of connection with others regardless of whether or not you are on your own. “I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.” Try Jack Kornfield’s site for a safe and non-prescriptive approach .

5. Keep a journal – take 20 to 30 minutes first thing in the morning to write down your thoughts and feelings, however jumbled or disorganised these may feel at the time. You may find that you begin to reframe living alone as a positive experience, and you can also begin to leave more of the difficult or negative feelings there on the page. This can help stop the habit of negative messages about loneliness or isolation dominating your life narrative, and continually running on and on in your mind. For more on ‘Words for Wellbeing’ visit .

If you find that you are feeling lonely and miserable a lot of the time living on your own, you may not be depressed but it can be helpful to explore ways of breaking the negative cycle – check out Mind UK Maybe it is also time for you to find a peer group meeting (including Men’s Groups). When you feel ready – ie you feel that there is enough safety in the group for you to speak – simply naming it can be a great source of relief, and help you let go of the lonely feelings. It can also be the beginning of intimacy with others, which actually can then support and reinforce positively your preference to live on your own.

Older Men Blow Away the Blues!

Jun 13 2013

Check out the prescription a Doctor gave for depression!…

The Five Aces are a popular UK swing band which formed in 1989 – and the 6 members with lead singer Ian Clarkson are now (mostly) older men.

Their jive music video of the Morecombe and Wise standard Bring Me Sunshine was released on YouTube in 2011. It has had over 2 million views since then.  Watch the You Tube video!

In 2012 Dr Wallace Hodges, a GP from Seattle USA, prescribed the link for a patient who was feeling depressed.

“At the end of the visit, he unexpectedly wrote me a prescription. ‘Check this out,’ he said. ‘Can I blog it?’ ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘spread it around. It is an instant mood lifter, whatever your predicament might be.’ ” – the story being told by Sally Schneider of .

Men Beyond 50 says, ‘Let’s all find more ways to be “instant mood lifters”!’

OK, so sadness and losses – we all experience greyness in our lives and can feel miserable at times  – and depression is an illness that hits many older men.  Simply naming it, going to see your GP doctor and naming it, or telling your story in a peer group (like a Men’s Group) can be the first step on the road to recovery. Here are the most useful, trustworthy and reliable UK sites to look for more information and help:

1. About Depresssion (Mind UK),
+ Mind UK has more pages on the full range of treatments available

2. Peer Groups – where to look (Depression UK)

3. Self-Help / Coping Advice (Depression Alliance network)

NB: If you have severe depression, and are in crisis, there are teams of doctors and nurses who can provide intensive support, which will enable you to stay at home if, rather than going into hospital.
For more information about what help may be available to you in your area, talk to your local Mind (see ), or call Mind Infoline (0300 123 3393).