By Betsy Stalcup, founder and executive director of Healing Center International
Last week, The Daily Telegraph released a podcast of Prince Harry that was picked up by various news outlets in the U.S. including the Washington Post in my hometown.
I read various versions of what Harry said online, but was then blown away by the actual recorded 30 minute interview which you can listen to here.
I think many in our culture would see Harry as a man’s man—hard drinking, adventure seeking. In his twenties, he was flying helicopters, fighting in Afghanistan, playing polo, partying hard—and keeping his emotions tightly zipped.
But three years ago something happened to Harry that I think we all can learn from. He recognized that he had not processed the death of his mother, Princess Diana, and that that bottled up grief was at the root of his restless ways. But let me start at the beginning.
The first question his interviewer asked was, “How are you really?” Harry gave a great answer right out of the pages of our books, by reporting on both his body and his emotions. He said, “I am a little bit nervous, a little bit tight in the chest, but otherwise fine.” Bravo, Harry, for being aware of your body and emotions and not saying, “I am fine!”
His interviewer did not validate his response. Instead she said, “Don’t be nervous.” I know from the tone of her voice that she meant to reassure him, but Harry stood up for himself with a quick response, “It is understandable.” Go Harry! Good for knowing that is it okay to be where you are!
Harry, his brother William, the future king of England, and his sister-in-law Kate Middleton have formed a public charity called Heads Together to focus on mental health. Why is mental health so important to him personally? Harry shared candidly: “I lost my mom at the age of 12. My way of dealing with [it was] to stick my head in the sand, and refuse to think about my mom because [I thought] ‘Why would that help? It is only going to make you sad. It is not going to bring her back.’ So from the emotion side [I thought] ‘Don’t let your emotions ever be part of anything’ . . . I shut down all of my emotions for the next 20 years. [It] had quite a serious affect, on not only my personal life, but also my work.”
That 20-year emotional shut down was followed by what the Prince calls “two years of total chaos,” where he came “very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions . . . All kinds of grief, lies and misconceptions were coming at [me] from every angle.” It was only when his older brother and other friends told him, “You really need to deal with this. It is not normal to think that none of this has affected you,” that Harry began to consider getting help. Harry had wondered if the way he felt was just part of growing up but he admits that he couldn’t figure out what was “wrong with me.”
Harry explains, “I started having a few conversations and all of a sudden all of this grief that I had never processed starting coming to the forefront. [I realized] there is a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.” Go Harry for listening to those who love you and getting help!
He says that being in the public eye, having to take part in “certain public engagements from which he could not escape,” would trigger his flight response. Because he could not flee, his body would kick into fight and he found himself wanting to punch someone.
As he got help, he found that his mates began talking to him and “started to slowly unravel their own issues because they knew that I could relate to it and there is nothing better than being able to share your experiences with someone who has actually been through it rather than . . . someone who doesn’t get what you’ve been through.”
As a volunteer with the Army’s Personal Recovery unit, Harry was meeting with emotionally and mentally wounded vets. He was also meeting with terminally ill children and their parents. He wondered, “How . . . am I supposed to process this?”
Harry spoke to a psychiatrist who said that even they need to process. “The rule is that for every three hours of listening, they need a half hour to talk to someone else and process it themselves.” His conclusion: “We’re not cut out to take on everybody else’s emotions . . .”
At age 28, when Harry began to really care, it was “really uneasy, trying to find a path in life.” But by the age of 30, he realized, “Wow this is a much better way of life—dealing with all [my own] grief,” as well as “sharing other people’s grief and knowing what they're going through.” Now he enjoys interacting with others making it “lighthearted when necessary, but . . . also being the person holding their hand and being a comfort for them when they cry.” Sounds like our mission at HCI, to share the joys and sorrows of life.
Harry says that sharing each other’s grief is “a fascinating process for me, not just for me, but all of the people that I get to meet. I'm so fortunate to get to meet these people who have literally turned their lives around. It's all part of a conversation—being able to talk to a brother or sister or parent or colleague or complete stranger . . . some of the best [people to talk to], the easiest people . . . are shrinks.”
“I’ve done it,” he admits. “It’s great.” “You sit down on the sofa and say [to them], ‘You know, I don't actually need your advice, just listen to me, and let it rip.’” Did the Prince of Wales just admit that he sees a shrink? Go Harry.
“I think everyone should do it,” he continues. “Wouldn't it be great if everyone [who] has a stressful week . . . had someone [they could] speak to where they could offload all of their week’s grief or all the day-to-day ____ that everyone has to put up with? If we could dump that on Friday, how much better would our weekends be? . . . once I offload my stuff to somebody else, I feel so much better.”
“There's huge merit in talking about your issues,” continues Harry. “Keeping it quiet is only going to make it worse. Not just for you but for everyone else around you as well, because you become a problem. [During] my twenties, I was a problem. I didn't know how to deal with [my issues].”
“I had to find the right person to talk to . . . One of my biggest frustrations . . . over the last few years is how hard it is to find the right person . . . But Harry urges everyone to “just have that conversation. You'll be surprised, firstly, by how much support you get; secondly, by how many people literally are longing for you to come out. You've got so much more in common with other people than you ever thought.”
Their new charity Heads Together is for “every single person out there [who is] suffering from daily stress, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, alcoholism and depression . . . What we’re trying to do is normalize the conversation to the point where anyone can sit down have a coffee and say, “You know I've had a really ____ day. Can I tell you about it?” Once you’ve had a chance to share, Harry says, “Then you walk away and it's done. You don’t have to wait a week or 20 years. [If you wait] what could've been small can grow into this beast of a snowball that you can’t dislodge. Or you can dislodge it, but it's going to cost you a load of money, a lot of time, a lot of heartache, and probably a lot of grief for you and your family and friends.”
Now Harry says he is in a good place. He acknowledges that being a prince has many benefits—a house, a car and a job—that he absolutely loves. But what has really made a difference is learning how to process grief. “Now, because of the process I've been through over the last three years, I'm able to take my work and private life seriously. I’ve been able to put blood, sweat and tears into things that will make a difference. For me, none of this would have ever gotten off the ground if I hadn't dealt with [my own grief].”
It was this desire to make a difference that motivated Harry, William and Kate to start Heads Together. They are hoping to “remove the stigma and pave the way for people to be able to talk about issues . . . [such as] day-to-day stresses, homelessness and HIV. It's all connected. Everybody struggles. We are not robots. We are human.” Hearing this from the land of the stiff upper lip is quite encouraging.
Harry then casts a vision for the future. “Imagine if everybody is . . . wandering around at 50% mental capacity. Imagine what we as a country, we as individuals could achieve by unlocking the next 25%? Now that I've cleared my head of all that rubbish . . . I can function at 25% more at my job, at home—whatever it be. It doesn't matter whether you are a prince or a mother or the CEO of a company or a white van driver or a kid—it doesn't matter who you are—mental health, mental fitness relates to every single one of us.” Imagine that!
When you make it better for you, you make it better for everyone who cares about you, better for everyone who worries about you.
What about you? Do you want to see 25% of your capacity restored by offloading the grief that weighs you down? Think what might be possible if you did.
Accessed April 27th, 2017