Tomorrow’s Fish-and-Chips Paper
It was going to be a big story, my journalist told me. In fact, it was going to be huge—my story had all the right elements for the ultimate tale of ‘triumph over tragedy’.
A view from the survivor’s side
It was going to be a big story, my journalist told me. In fact, it was going to be huge—my story had all the right elements for the ultimate tale of ‘triumph over tragedy’. My credentials were impressive: a tragic, young mum facing an untimely and painful death from a killer cancer, two photogenic children, a devoted medical husband and a last minute snatch from the jaws of death. Moreover, I was a doctor prepared to speak out with a world-renowned specialist waiting in the wings to confirm what the fast-approaching third Millennium was awaiting—a bona fide Miracle ...
I have a story to tell about the reporting of trauma—and why it matters that journalists do this well. If you’re a journalist reading this, I ask you to bear with me as this tale unfolds. But first, let me tell you about how I fell ill and how I was healed.
My ‘tragedy’ began in 1983 as a 17-year-old when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bone cancer. I developed a painful lump on my left leg following a cross-country run—within two days I underwent biopsy surgery and a week later I was told I had potentially fatal cancer. The only available treatment was to undergo a radical above-knee amputation followed by high dose chemotherapy. The surgical treatment was horrific and mutilating but necessary if I was to contemplate the slim five per cent chance of survival. Additionally, I was warned the toxicity of this chemotherapy was great, likely causing baldness, infertility and possible life-threatening complications. The six months of treatment amounted to what I can only describe as surgical, chemical and psychological torture.
Against the odds, I did survive and learned to walk again using a prosthesis. I graduated in medicine in 1988, got married and produced two healthy children. I spent five years in anaesthetics, emergency and intensive care medicine searching for a niche I could best use my traumatic experiences to help others. The mobility problems caused by my amputation eventually lead me to take up psychiatry where I found my true vocation. Early on in my psychiatric training I realised the overwhelming terrors, bedwetting nightmares, vivid reliving of scenes from my adolescence and dark suicidal depressions to which I succumbed were all symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I sought professional help, ending 10 years of mental torment.
In February 1999, my cancer relapsed unexpectedly. Major chest surgery removed a secondary cancerous growth from my lung. This was swiftly followed by the news I had always dreaded—a bone scan revealed a third inoperable and untreatable secondary growth in my pelvic bone, close to my spine. This time, I was told, my luck had run out. My cancer was terminal and my health was failing fast. I was 34 years old with a son of six and a baby daughter aged one.
For six months I suffered excruciating pain, debilitating and distressing symptoms of advancing cancer, becoming gradually weaker to the point of being bedridden. Three consultant oncologists told me there was nothing more that could be done and referred me for palliative care via the hospice doctors. On discovering I was terminally ill, I did all that a dying mum has to do. I planned my funeral in great detail, wrote goodbye letters for my children, discussed how to bring them up ‘minus-a-mum’, had a final Australian holiday, chose my burial plot and visited the hospice where I would like to die.
Then the unexpected happened. I have been a Christian as long as I have lived with the threat of cancer and I began praying for healing from my secondary relapse as soon as I knew the stark and dismal facts. When I began to taste what death was like, I prayed fervently and created a prayer chain of thousands of other like-minded Christians. In late September 1999, I was admitted to hospital because my pain was spiraling out of control. My morphine was at maximum dose and my husband was told to expect the worse. The Elders of my Baptist church came in to the hospital to pray and anoint me with the ‘oil of healing’. I was sent home to die on three different types of opiate painkillers.
One week later, my physical symptoms suddenly began to improve and my pain began to lessen such that I was able to reduce my drugs. Each day I improved a little until three weeks later, I was off all medication and able to get up and cook a meal—something I had not done for several months. On October 27, 1999, a bone scan revealed no sign of the secondary growth that was supposed to take my life. It was, I told my specialist, ‘a miracle’ brought about in answer to prayer. He agreed with a now famous quote: “I’ll buy that”—and he still does six years later.
And that is where one might expect my story to end. Except it doesn’t. Like all good films, the sequel awaits and is equally packed with adventure.
This, dear journalist, is where you enter the story.
When I arrived home on that autumn night six years ago filled with euphoria, I was faced with a dilemma. How could I explain to my family and praying friends the amazing turn around that had just occurred? I was in the unusual position of needing to inform a friend I had invited to deliver my eulogy that his services would have to be postponed. I decided the easiest way was to write it all down. I wrote passionately through the night putting down a snapshot of recent events in print. From the moment I typed my first word I discovered the relief catharsis brings and the healing potential of victim/survivor narrative. How good it was to write down those never-spoken words and give my pain a voice—to bring sense and order into the chaos and confusion of my schizoid emotions. I have never lost that benefit of exploring and integrating my trauma through the ‘therapy’ of writing.
I was proud of my first creative writing effort, having only previously written rather dull medical essays. I made 50 photocopies of my testimony and distributed it at church three days after my healing. Over the next week I was inundated with phone calls from church friends asking for more copies of my story. The feedback was extremely positive and I felt thrilled that my hard-won experiences could be shared to help others. I soon heard of the first cancer reader who had been encouraged by reading about my own trauma so I responded to pressure to produce more copies. Initially I printed 500 copies, which quickly ballooned to 5,000 and still people asked for more.
Within a week, a Welsh journalist from a Christian newspaper contacted me, asking if I would be prepared to allow him to write a piece about my cancer journey based on the booklet. I readily agreed to his suggestion. I felt so much better after the initial sharing of my story in the booklet that I figured this would be even more beneficial. Besides, I was still intoxicated with the euphoria of cheating death.
I truly thought my story would fill a few column inches on page 15 of the newspaper. I could not believe my eyes when I visited a local Christian bookshop to discover my picture splashed over the front page. The leading article consisted largely of the booklet I had produced in a more succinct and readable style. Immediately, I saw this as ‘the answer’ to why I had suffered the traumas of my youth and the relapse: I had been called to share this story for the good of others who were hurting and in pain. My suffering took on real meaning and I had a reason for my traumatic experiences. I was no longer a random statistic—the unlucky 1-in-300 teenager who contracts cancer ... the 1-in-20 who relapses ... the one-in-four who gets to die. No, now I was the one-in-a-million miracle, who got spontaneous remission, the special one who survived in order to serve another purpose. Pain with a purpose, we are told during childbirth, is pain we can tolerate. Random and meaningless pain becomes cruelly intolerable. My quest for meaning, I thought, was now at an end.
And of course, I was driven by an enormous and repressed survivor’s guilt. How many of my fellow victims had not received their last minute pardon? I owed it to them to speak out and make a difference. I had survived and I attributed that survival to the merciful hand of God, positive thinking, a resilient human spirit. Now, I reasoned, I must share my story to repay a debt to less fortunate victims. I needed to say ‘Thank you’ to the hand that picked me to be the sole survivor. Like others who walk away from a train crash, a natural disaster, a mass shooting or any other near-death experience I needed to find a way to assuage my guilt.
When the Christian journalist suggested that the secular press might be interested in my story I jumped at the chance. Because I had spent most of the previous 10 months in my own little opiate-stoned private world, I had missed the build up to the Millennium. I did not realise the degree of discussion surrounding spiritual matters. I was surprised therefore when a journalist contacted me from a national daily tabloid, expressing huge enthusiasm at the prospect of covering the story of a medically validated miracle.
“Do you know how huge your story is going to be?” my journalist asked when we first met. Of course I didn’t. To me a huge story was somebody famous dying or a royal scandal. I barely read a paper six years ago and had no understanding of how the media functioned. I had met thousands of cancer victims during my medical career and spent years listening to traumatic, remarkable stories of survival, none of which made the tabloid press. My journalist assured me if anyone could cope with the publicity, I could. The interview with him was conducted over the phone taking several hours. Detail by excruciating detail, I recounted my entire story to a complete stranger I had met only once before and had absolutely no reason to trust with my pain. In some ways, the complete anonymity of a phone call helped—something akin to the unburdening of a confessional. Looking back, I can see that once the process of trauma disclosure began, stopping the process was impossible. It was like taking a brick out of a dam. At first the words trickled out but the weight of 17 years of tears, untold secrets and hidden pain gained momentum and soon a trickle became a gush became a torrent raging with a power of its own. I gave one hell of a good interview.
Several days later I received a late night phone call from my journalist. His editor had loved the piece. My specialist had gone on record and confirmed the facts. I was splashed all over the front page of tomorrow’s national daily newspaper with a headline of ‘Miracle’. The story covered several pages inside and was the subject of an editorial piece. “Make sure you wear something smart when you leave the house tomorrow,” he advised me. I put the phone down and then it hit me: tomorrow morning several million people would read exactly how it felt to tell my 6-year-old son I was dying.
I was awoken next morning at seven o’clock by my neighbour hammering on the front door. A breakfast television presenter had just called them and wanted to speak to me urgently: could they give out my phone number? Hastily, I woke the children and dropped them at school. I returned home to be ambushed by a journalist from another rival newspaper—could I do an interview for them? I rang my journalist—“Stay by the phone,” he told me and instructed me to run the requests by him. By midday, a reporter from the BBC had arrived asking for an interview. By mid-afternoon, I had 28 requests from various media organisations interested in my story. My phone rang non-stop and over the course of the following week I gave five more newspaper interviews, seven radio interviews and made five television appearances to national and international media organisations. Each time I was asked to recount the intimate details of my story. Inevitably the focus was on the most harrowing details: the amputation of my leg as a teenager and the time spent in the throes of terminal illness. I was swept along in a wave of frenzied curiosity.
As well as interviews with the press, I was contacted by dozens of terminally ill individuals wanting and needing encouragement and support. It seemed that every church or survivor group in the country was inviting me to speak about my experiences. I received three malicious and threatening letters and a handful of communications from the obviously psychotic. I felt like everyone wanted a piece of me.
I am not sure at what point the balance swung from catharsis to re-traumatisation, but it was early on in that first week after disclosure. I recall experiencing total numbness for most of that first week and a sense of total dislocation. For long periods of the day I wondered if I really existed, was I truly still alive? Sometimes I would fleetingly think I was actually dead and watching my experiences from some heavenly vantage-point. I could not engage with my children or my husband and I would constantly ask whether I was dreaming recent events. With hindsight these were symptoms of severe dissociation—an intense acute reaction to trauma. I could only sleep aided by large quantities of alcohol and my mood swung between the manically euphoric and elated to the darkly depressed as I was catapulted back into the trauma of the previous years. I felt guilty having depressive thoughts. After all I had been miraculously delivered from death—I should be grateful when so many others had been denied life. But that terrible path toward death had been so full of sorrow and I feared I had been to forbidden places: I had looked into the abyss of death and lived.
With the exception of the first interview with my journalist over which I had complete control, I cannot tell you whether the subsequent interviews were good, bad or indifferent. I simply cannot remember and most of December 1999 has been deleted from my memory. I can recall only bizarre details such as a German TV crew asking if they could film me changing my daughter’s nappy, a request I found obscenely intrusive. It seemed as if I spent the entire month drowning in a sea of pain and memories and yet feeling compelled to smile because I had survived. I pushed down and buried any emotion that I sensed would not fit my ‘Miracle’ headline. The weeks leading to the Millennium passed in a blur of more stories: ‘Miracle Mum Returns to Work’, ‘Miracle Mum Celebrates Christmas’. By the turning of the Millennium I was utterly emotionally exhausted and decided to draw a line under any further interviews.
With the arrival of the New Year and Millennium, life calmed down. I returned to work and re-bonded with my family. As the euphoria settled I was able to reappraise the situation. I returned for my first hospital appointment and asked some difficult questions about my prognosis. The answers I received were extremely unclear. My cancer was an incredibly rare type, relapse after 17 years of health was unheard of, miraculous healing / spontaneous remission never recorded. Nobody could tell me what the future held. I made a decision based on this information. Whilst I was dying, I had begun to write my life-story, chiefly for the benefit of my children so they could catch a glimpse of their mum’s character. I had written three chapters before the morphine prevented coherent thoughts and the ‘book’ left in safekeeping with a friend. Although I had told some of my story in the press, I wanted to write a complete record of my life journey. After all, newspaper stories—everyone told me—were ‘tomorrow’s fish and chips paper’. I needed a more permanent chronicle.
At first, the thought of publishing never occurred to me, but several journalists had dropped the word ‘book’ into their interviews. I contacted my journalist to run the idea past him and because I had no idea how to write a book. The interviews with other journalists had left me re-traumatised and I felt pushed into talking about things I did not want to. I also liked the way he allowed me to have final sight of everything that went to press, giving me complete control over what appeared in the article. From the outset he advised me against accepting any money for my story to avoid relinquishing my control, which I adhered to, even though a famous publicist did offer me £25,000 for a rival newspaper! I trusted him, so it seemed natural to ask him to co-author my book, a request he agreed to. In March 2000, an editor from a large and well-respected publishing house contacted me, having seen one of my television interviews. He suggested I should consider writing a book, which they would like to publish. By this time, the writing of my story was flowing sweetly. I loved the creativity of writing and the catharsis of my narrative. Putting my experiences down in written form allowed me to express my emotions for the first time ever and make sense of them. The publishing invitation seemed heaven-sent and my journalist and I signed a joint contract.
Everything went well for the first few months. Chapters were e-mailed back and forth between us and gradually the book grew. The writing was intense and I spent four hours most nights working on it. I was completely immersed in the world of my book. Everything else, including my family, took second place to it; such was the drive to unburden myself. I can honestly say that I spent far more time communicating with my journalist than with anyone else and a close bond formed between us. I began to see the book as the new purpose for my suffering. I wanted the world to know it was possible to suffer such trauma and come through as a stronger person. Again, the quest for meaning became a powerful driving force.
As an inexperienced writer I wrote down everything I could remember about my experiences. Inevitably, I over-disclosed and ended up writing about events that were not included in the published book for a variety of reasons. My journalist edited out details that we both agreed were too distressing to disclose in the public arena. Some we were unable to include because of legal restrictions. These events were of a deeply traumatic and intimate nature, and it was because of the trust and confidence which I felt towards my co-author that I was able to open up in this way. I was then devastated when I discovered at one point that my journalist had divulged some of these details to a third party.
Shortly after this my PTSD relapsed. I did not recognise the symptoms at first—nightmares about my leg being ripped off, flashbacks to awakening from my amputation, extreme anxiety, mood swings and irritability. I vaguely mentioned “PTSD” to my journalist who received most of the backlash of my emotional distress, but when he did not pick up on this I ended up blaming my hormones. Nevertheless, we recovered from this, my PTSD symptoms subsided and the book was finally completed. I was able to explain to my journalist a few facts about PTSD but I remember being surprised that journalists did not appear to receive any training in reactions to severe trauma when their entire working lives were spent dredging around in it.
I typed the last word of the epilogue on October 27, 2000, exactly a year to the day since I had been healed. A whole year of emotional reliving had been directed to that final word. I felt an amazing sense of relief and elation as I e-mailed the final work to my journalist. The raging torrent of emotion, pain and trauma of 17 years had run its course, demolishing the dam and eventually flooding out into a spacious, calm place.
That is the point my closure and detachment should have occurred. For me it was now a finished story and I was happy to leave the final changes to my journalist. The major task of thorough editing had taken place as each chapter was completed. The agreed book was sent to the publisher and we both had a good long rest from writing while the publishers made up the proofs.
What happened next was something I experienced as little short of vandalism. I read the completed typescript of ‘my’ book with a dawning sense of sorrow. My words had been completely changed. My book had been defaced. Even my commas had become full stops. It was no longer my story. Some unknown—and untrusted hand, attempting to portray me as a prim and proper saint, had performed a pious make-over. The “Oh my God!” scream of the second stage of labour had become “Oh my gosh!” (Had they ever been in a delivery suite?) I cried when I read what they did with words whispered to my husband in the terminal illness phase. “Oh shit, shit, shit, I don’t want to die!” had become “Oh no, I don’t want to die.” Apart from being untrue, it was also unreal to imagine I would be so wishy-washy about dying. My book had been about a gutsy, bloody, passionate normal person. Theirs was about a weak plaster-saint wearing a cheesy smile.
We changed every word and every full-stop back to the original—a mountain of work. The only battle we did not win was the “Oh shit ...” battle. Apparently, bona fide miracles don’t say “shit”—even when they’re dying.
I was proud of the book as it was finally completed, but it’s difficult to put in words how terribly distressing the last part was in getting there. Someone had taken my control away. I felt like I was ‘not good enough’ because my story wasn’t good enough. I felt rejected. Ultimately I felt like something had been stolen from me and then destroyed. I felt violated.
My PTSD symptoms worsened. I was plagued with nightmares. I could not sleep. For the first time in a decade I had intrusive thoughts of suicide. If I could have stopped the process there and then I would have done so, but it was too late. I had signed away the right to own my words.
My book, From Medicine to Miracle, was published in October 2001 and expected to generate more media interest. Somehow—and perhaps naively—I assumed the media would ask me questions about writing a book, moving on with cancer, the strengths and weaknesses of the book. I was wrong. I was genuinely amazed when the first interviewer didn’t ask me a single question about the writing of the book. Instead, I was quizzed again in great detail about my story, in particular the areas I know found intensely intrusive: the aftermath of amputation, the experience of being ‘terminal’ and how my son reacted to the news of mummy dying. The publishers wanted the book to sell and were pushing me hard to be the ‘face of the book’ so I felt I couldn’t say no to these questions. For me, selling the book meant the complete truth was heard—apart from the fact I swore a lot whilst terminal! It also meant my purpose was being fulfilled, after all speaking out had become the reason for my suffering so other trauma victim/survivors could be helped. The book had become so much a part of my purpose and rejection of it felt like a rejection of myself. And if my story was rejected then it made my suffering and pain meaningless. Which takes us back to intolerable cruelty.
Over the next year from hardback through paperback I conducted almost 40 media interviews for newspaper, radio and television. Approximately half of the journalists who conducted these interviews acted professionally and with incredible empathy and understanding. It worked both ways and in return I gave them a much better story. These guys researched the story, allowed me to take control and respected the trust I invested in them by reporting truthfully and accurately. These interviews really helped me to revisit my trauma safely allowing me to integrate, explore and catharsise my experiences.
Likewise I had a lot of bad interviews. In every case a bad experience triggered re-traumatisation and I identified two common threads. I believe the two most important factors in triggering re-traumatisation during a trauma victim / survivor interview are loss of trust and loss of control. I will illustrate this with a few examples.
In January 2000 a freelance journalist contacted me. He wrote for a tacky sensationalist American magazine—the sort that reports London buses found on Mars. He asked if I could do an interview for the magazine. He described his magazine as ‘a women’s journal with a religious slant.’ I knew this was a blatant lie so I declined his request. Four months later I was shopping in town and passed a newsstand. My photograph was on the front cover of the tacky magazine I had refused to do the interview for, claiming an ‘exclusive’. I was shocked to discover a plagiarised article inside and several photographs of my family and I when I was very ill. I have no idea how he obtained the photographs. I felt hurt, betrayed and angry. I wrote to the Press Complaints Commission but they replied saying they could not help, as the magazine was American.
Shortly after my book was released, a women’s magazine journalist asked if she could cover my story. She came to my home and spent two hours interviewing me in great detail recording it all in her notebook. Photographs of my family were requested which I duly provided. The focus of the article was very much on the impact of trauma on my family and I gave a truthful and in depth account to her. I asked if I could read the article before it went to print but this request was refused—something to do with ‘editorial control’. When I read the published article I was astounded. The article bore no resemblance to our interview. The story had been grossly altered, words changed and given a totally different appearance. Intimate details were untrue. At one point the journalist had asked me how my son reacted when I told him I was going to die. The truth I had disclosed was that he hugged me, hid his face in my hair, told me he loved me, cried softly and then we prayed together. The article wrote that he ran upstairs, flung himself on his bed face down and cried hysterically: this was simply untrue. I felt angry that the facts had been dismissed as ‘too boring’ and replaced by something a bit more sensational. How dare she decide how my son should have reacted to the news his mother was going to die? It was not my son she was writing about but someone else and it was not my story. In fact, I think the truth was a much better story. When I quizzed the editor about why the article had been changed his rude and offensive reply was “We don’t do God.” To cap it all, they didn’t even have the courtesy to include my book details.
In January 2002 I agreed to take part in a live television chat show to share my story and talk about my book. I was to appear alongside a media-doctor and a scientist who researched miracles. The chat show had a good reputation with well-respected presenters. Again, I spent two hours talking to the programme researcher and sent a copy of my book well in advance in order to provide the facts. I travelled to London excited about a big opportunity to share my story with a wider audience. I had been assured that although I would not meet the presenters before hand they would have read the book and research brief. After hours of waiting my slot came and the presenter began to quiz me.
“So, this miracle happened when you had cancer and an amputation of your leg two years ago then?” I panicked. His facts were completely wrong and we were live on air.
“No, I had my leg amputated 17 years ago,” I replied. He looked puzzled but moved swiftly on.
“And you became a Christian after you had this miracle happen?”
“No,” I corrected him. “I became a Christian 17 years ago, before my cancer and before my amputation.” He looked puzzled again and realising he was on thin ice then diverted the discussion to one of the other speakers, proceeded to demolish the theory of miracles and ignored me for the rest of the slot. At one point I tried to interrupt but the presenter steam-rollered over me. I felt my face flushing and tried not to cry live on prime-time television. It was the longest and most humiliating five minutes of my life. I stumbled out of the studio numb and shaking. I cried all the way home from London to Cardiff. Two of the most major events of my life—my amputation and my conversion had been incorrectly and insensitively dealt with in front of millions of people. Why had I bothered to spend a painful two hours trawling through my trauma with the researcher when it had obviously not been used? I felt emotionally annihilated.
Almost six years have passed since I last cheated death. My scans remain clear and every year my prognosis improves. My PTSD has been in remission for the last six months. I am watching my precious children grow up—something I thought would be denied me. I pray that this will continue for many more years. Occasionally the media still contact me to talk about my journey but I have moved beyond telling the story of my survival. Now I am beginning to harvest the bittersweet fruits of my trauma. I work in the area of liaison psychiatry where I am developing my practice in trauma psychiatry and psycho-oncology (the psychological management of cancer patients). This enables me to use the pain I have been through myself to help others who are just beginning their journey of healing. I have found a meaning for my trauma without having to repeatedly disclose and open old wounds. I do not regret telling my story so publicly through the media. Ultimately I know it has helped many individuals through their own traumas, but the cost of multiple re-traumatisation has been delayed normalisation and recovery. At last, I have closure myself.
Journalists have been constant and regular companions on my journey from ‘tragedy to triumph’ enabling me to gain insight into the interaction between journalist and trauma victim / survivor. What have I learned?
Journalists and psychiatrists share some common ground. Trauma disclosure is our bread-and-butter day job. Often the pain of trauma I deal with is secretly whispered in my consulting room. The trauma journalists deal with is fresh, raw and much of it shared in the public domain. It is an awesome responsibility to carry the precious burden of another human’s devastation. I believe the person to whom we initially disclose our trauma engages in a unique and significant alliance and I would liken this to the therapeutic relationship. This may be a doctor, a police officer or a psychological therapist. Or increasingly in the current age, it may be a journalist. The initial disclosing of my trauma narrative to my journalist is one of the most important things I have ever done. It began the process of healing. However, trauma disclosure can be cathartic and healing or it can lead to re-traumatisation and intense psychological distress. It is therefore a relationship that must be understood and managed correctly and within professional and ethical boundaries.
I believe all journalists who are dealing with trauma stories—that is all journalists—should be guided by an ethical and professional code of conduct, similar to the Hippocratic oath that exists for doctors urging them to do ‘no harm’. Quality research now exists to show that early intervention (unfashionably known as ‘debriefing’) is unhelpful and may even be harmful following trauma. Effectively, in-depth interviews soon after a trauma incident could be seen as similar to early intervention techniques. The potential to cause psychological harm is very real.
It follows from this that journalists dealing with trauma should receive regular training in understanding the significance of their task and how to deal sensitively and effectively with victims of trauma. They should be aware of the reactions to trauma, in particular the symptoms and consequences of PTSD and possible triggers. PTSD is not only extremely unpleasant but is associated with depression, substance misuse and carries a risk of completed suicide. Knowledge is important not only because of the trauma victim’s mental health, but also for the journalist who is witnessing scenes of devastation. There is an increasing recognition that front-line journalists are an ‘at risk’ group for the development of PTSD, along with other professional groups managing trauma scenes such as emergency service personnel.
It would be possible to draw up trauma coverage guidelines for journalists to adhere to, in the same way the recent National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for PTSD provide expert recommendations to doctors. These could include information in how to conduct and follow-up traumatic interviews and where to direct victim /survivors who may need further help.
It would also be helpful for journalists to be able to access support and supervision for themselves when dealing with trauma. This need has been recognised in many other professional groups already. For instance, psychiatrists undergo mandatory supervision with a trusted senior colleague or peer-group colleague consisting of a minimum of one hour per week. This provides an opportunity to learn, off-load and be accountable.
Finally, attitudes need to be challenged. It is not a sign of ‘weakness’ to show psychological distress following involvement in a major traumatic event. Given sufficient trauma the most resilient person will break. Cumulative repressed trauma will eventually manifest itself whether this is in the form of psychological distress, addictions, relationship problems or stress-related physical illness.
One of the most frequent question journalists have asked me over the last six years is “If God healed you then why doesn’t He heal everyone who is terminally ill?” I used to reply with a theological treatise on the meaning of suffering. From now on I shall simply say that not everybody would have survived the media frenzy that followed a bona fide miracle! Behind ‘tomorrow’s fish-and-chips paper’ there is a grieving, hurting, vulnerable person. You can tell my sensational story and you can help me to heal. You can be that safe blank paper I choose to write my life story upon. But please do not compound my pain—I have suffered enough already.