The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Stories of resilience

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 9 June 2021, 06:53 Last update: about 10 days ago

Last Saturday on my radio show, ‘Andrew Azzopardi on 103’ on 103 Malta’s Heart, the discussion revolved on how people deal with situations when faced with desperation.  Apart from the outstanding Dr Daniela Zammit, a medical doctor and psychiatry trainee, one of a new cluster of psychiatrists, there was also Kerry Hermitage, a dedicated social worker and manager at the YMCA. 

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But the protagonists of this program were three people who shared copiously their stories with such generosity, namely, David Spiteri Gingell, Marilyn Mintoff and Louisa Grech.  All three stories manifest what resilience and spirit is about.

David Spiteri Gingell

David is a well-known strategist both locally and internationally. He has worked on scoping exercises and development of strategies all his working life. He has single handedly led a number of organizations and proposed reforms on a mammoth scale. During the radio show he talked about his struggle with Bi-polar II. ‘Bipolar II disorder is a bipolar spectrum disorder characterized by at least one episode of hypomania and at least one episode of major depression.’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipolar_II_disorder).  David spoke about the struggle he has to face day-in-day-out.

He was diagnosed with this condition some 20 years ago. Before that his mental health issues were pushed aside and people would simply ask him to ‘get on with it’. He says that speaking publicly about his condition and how it impacts him is partially what gives him solace, knowing well-enough that in the process he is helping others. 

He finds his closest family as being his main source of courage. Another source of courage are his pets who give him comfort knowing they need and depend on him. He does admit that at times it becomes very hard for those closest to him and recognizes that living with a person who has to struggle constantly with this pain can get bumpy for them. Notwithstanding the support he has at home there were moments where he just couldn’t take it anymore. In fact, during the programme he said how he had attempted to commit suicide twice, one of them being by driving his car at full speed into a wall and hoped against all hope that this attempt would ‘succeed’. Luckily it didn’t, and he came out of that experience able to tell us about it.

The daily challenges he has to face are a massive burden and digging in and trying to find scope and confidence does not come easy for David. He says that he is not always grateful that he survived suicide but also reiterated that there is a lot to live for but the overwhelming feeling of depression or hypomania keeps getting in the way. It is his determination that pushes him through the next stage in life.  

Marilyn Mintoff

Marilyn is a young person who has struggled with anxiety for some time. She is a highly talented media producer.  She speaks about the struggle to tackle each moment and getting through one day at a time. She claims that faith in God is what takes her through and helps her process the struggles.  She says that there is a constant struggle in her mind and at times she is literally unable to get herself out of bed with the intense anxiety that clinches her. For her it is not easy to plod on at times and tries to tackle each day with all the lows it might bring to it.  She says that she values friendships immensely and that her work colleagues are pivotal in accompanying her as she gets on with her life.  The way society at times deals with her is not always the best way of going about things but with the help of those around her she walks through the haze and keeps finding the right doses of energy to take on the next challenge thrown at her.  The strength of character of this woman is inspiring.       

Louisa Grech

Louisa’s story is almost unbelievable. The pain that this woman has gone through is second to none.  She spoke about the incident that defined her over 17 years ago when her daughter Jessica was crushed under the weight of a school van that had just returned her other sibling. Louisa spoke about how this incident that led to the instantaneous death of her 21-month-old daughter and marked her for life.  She found solace in her friends, in her family but also in God. Not only that. The first thing she did was to embrace the driver who ran over her daughter. I’m bowled over. This wasn’t the end of it. A couple of years after, Philip, her husband and herself had another son who was diagnosed with down syndrome.

This mother of immense strength has not only loved but has been instrumental in providing for the best possible quality of life to her son who is now semi-independent, has his own friends and work colleagues and has joie de vivre like no other. 

What Louisa kept stating was that it was society that becomes, in a way, the biggest problem in all of this.

She spoke about the birth of her son with down syndrome and the intensity of love and sensitivity her son gives of himself day-in and day-out. We all know that society is not only very selective but also abounds in discrimination.  If this wasn’t enough, she was faced with another dilemma, this time round when she had to once again deal with a judgmental and hostile society. This happened because her son came out as a gay person. She says that the wedding of her son to his partner surfaced the love beyond words. She claims that she has never witnessed such beauty and exquisiteness before in a wedding. Louisa sums up these intense stories by saying that, notwithstanding the death and the pain and the angst she had to endure, she felt God was close to her. In fact, nowadays she remains actively involved in Drachma and speaks regularly about her story.

The story of these three people is flabbergasting.  It shows what humanity is made of.   

 

People can ask for help here: 

Richmond Foundation‘s helpline 1770 – available 24/ 7.

Richmond Foundation also offers a chat service, OLLI.chat, available for free to anyone experiencing mental health difficulties.

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