Trish Chester: Silver Linings

Trish gives a touching insight into how she has managed to find positive sides to some very tough times she experienced – and has found herself stronger as a result.

silver linings cartoon

David Essex seductively assured me (with a cheeky pause) ‘every cloud’s got a silver — lining’, and Jeff Beck greeted his silver linings with a cheery ‘Hi Ho’.

The phrase, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’, suggests life’s difficulties could potentially be beneficial. In finding something positive, we can possibly experience joy or peace, thus helping us to resolve or accept our situation.

Similar sayings – ‘you can’t have a rainbow without a little rain’, ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’ – always irritated me. I didn’t, or couldn’t, share this outlook at all, reacting to negative or upsetting events in my life with anger, resentment, guilt, frustration, envy and despair.

How was I supposed to find anything good when I needed a hysterectomy in my 30s and couldn’t have children? When my first husband emotionally abused me? When I was diagnosed with MS and forced into early retirement from teaching? When my second husband died suddenly and unexpectedly from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy)? When my mother died suddenly from an aneurysm? When my third husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died within six months? When my fourth husband turned out to be a cruel, covert narcissist? When many of these events resulted in long stays on psychiatric wards experiencing reactive depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation?

The question always running around in my head was, ‘Why me?’. Silver linings seemed as unattainable as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Was it really possible to go through this amount of trauma and see anything positive arising from it? How could I feasibly carry on and not let everything that had happened in my life define me and ruin any chance of possible future happiness?

Although listing these events might appear overwhelming, they happened over a period of over 35 years. At the time, each one threatened to destroy me mentally, physically, or both. But raging against the world became exhausting and almost boring. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but one day I just thought, ‘Enough’, and turned my rather self-pitying question into ‘Why NOT me?”. This new perspective helped a little, but I needed more to help me process everything.

As is so often the case in life, the answer had always been there. I began my working life as a teacher, wanting to help children grow and develop into the best they could be. Leaving my career left a huge void – I needed something to focus on rather than myself, and I wanted to work with people. So after my second husband’s death, I went back to University and trained to be a counsellor, eventually specialising in bereavement.

I also explored ways of sharing and using my experiences in constructive ways. Joining mental health groups in Sheffield such as SUST (Sheffield User Survivor Trainers) and CAST (Creative Arts Support Team) opened up further opportunities. I represented mental health services users and assisted on several Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield University undergraduate and postgraduate courses. I facilitated mental health training courses and creative writing classes, and was privileged to be given the opportunity to write about some of my experiences in journals and academic texts.

These were my ‘silver linings’. Almost like compensation for everything I’d been through. And there is no doubt in my mind that I have developed into a better person because of, and in spite of, everything that has happened to me. I’m more compassionate, understanding, empathic, patient. I have gradually become stronger and more resilient – I can’t prevent future adverse events from happening, but I feel more equipped to cope now.

In my opinion, the key element to my silver linings lay in the timing – they could only be discovered and reflected on in hindsight. I think Walt Disney explained this far better than I can: “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me … You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you”.

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