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Operation Sunflower

In the Summer '88 issue of "Caduceus", Dr. Horace Dobbs expounded his theory that an encounter with a wild dolphin can help those who are clinically depressed. To investigate his hypothesis he set up Operation Sunflower, for which he took three people with different experiences of depression to Dingle Bay in Ireland to meet with a wild dolphin, Funghie.

I was lucky enough to be one of the three. My own experience of depression started whin I was about nine years old. I am now approaching twenty three. I was beset by the most morbid and catastrophic fears which I was unable to share even with my parents, who have always striven to provide a loving and suportive home. There was very little apparent in my environment which could have triggered my generally sad and occasionally very depressed attitude.

At the age of sixteen, within one month, I suffered the losses of a very dear friend, my mothers godmother, and a split with my boyfriend. The coincidence of these events pushed me from states of low self-esteem and self-confidence into the state of anorexia nervosa. I am still fighting to extricate myself from its grasp but I am convinced that the reason I continue to fight it after nearly seven years, and have not given in to it, is that I have been swimming with a wild dolphin.

Slowly and gently he nudged my feet,then my knees, then my stomach, and then he swam up to within six inches of my face. Turning to the side to look into my face with one eye he then gazed deliberately into my eyes. There was nowhere to hide. This wild creature was looking not at my body nor even at my expression, but right at the pain in my soul. I am sure now that a wild dolphin in the icy waters of Dingle Bay located my anguish as no human being could.

When a person is depressed he/she avoids eye contact with even those who care the most. One thus shuts out the opinions and influences of other people and, paradoxically, one shuts out one's own feelings too. This may be the only way to still the pain of a very deep and terrible psychological or spiritual wound. When Funghie looked in at my personal anguish he was seeing me as not even I had been able to see myself. But I did not feel afraid. I could trust him.

No matter how much I try to assess the experience of meeting a dolphin in his natural; wild, free state, I cannot define where the importance of it lay. Sometimes I think that the significance which I felt as this beautiful creature chose to swim with me was precisely that: because he was free in the sea, for him to be with me was obviously from choice. I could not do anything impressive or interesting to warrant his attention, yet there was something about me which was apparently worth his time. My sense of self esteem was so low that to suddenly feel special, and especially without doing anything to earn it, was a poignant and very powerful moment. Such feelings, however, are difficult to hold in one's mind when years of depression have convinced one otherwise.

Sometimes I think the power of swimming with Funghie was in his acceptance of me in the water in a physical way- it did not matter what I looked like, whether I was fat or thin.

What I felt may have been a combination of these two aspects of the experience- but both require some intellectual effort to understand, and, therefore, I think that though they may have had some validity, the true power lay elsewhere, beyond words. This was the first step on the way to a recovery which I now feel capable and sure of making. Of course I still get depressed from time to time. I would be lying if I did not admit that occasionally a low feels interminable, but those around me know that I can be happy. To be reminded of my time underwater in an environment without words, but one shared by that joyful, free creature, is enough to ease me back to a position from which I can continue to make an effort.

Funghie taught me how to look at and truly face my pain. The experience was one of mutual and unconditional love and trust which perhaps only another intelligent species like the dolphin can provide. We must be humble enough to learn.

This article was written by Jemima in 1989

In 1987 Jemima Biggs was anorexic, occasionally bulimic and down in the dumps. She wore dark, shapeless, baggy clothes to conceal what she thought was a bulky, ugly body. Morbid thoughts of death were penned up inside her like dark water behind a dam. Her mother was in despair. When she heard that I was proposing to investigate the possibility that dolphins could help those in depression she contacted me. What happened next is told in "Dance to a Dolphin's Song".

We filmed Jemima's responce to Funghie the Dingle dolphin for a TV program entitled The Dolphin's Touch. The immediate change in Jemima was there for viewers to see. Her self-esteem started to rise. She realised there could be highs as well as lows in life. When he heard about the concept that dolphins could help those suffering from depression, Mark Jobst of BBC Radio at Pebble Mill decided to conduct an investigation. He and a sound recordist joined a group led by Paul Williams to swim with Freddie the friendly dolphin at Amble. The program, transmitted on BBC Radio 4 in August 1991, received extensive reviews and Jemima's picture appeared in the Radio Times. Jim Neilson saw that picture and contacted Jemima.

They fell in love and married at a charming Quaker ceremony in Exeter on 15th August 1992. Jemima wore flowers in her hair and an elegant colorful dress. She still weighed only six and a half stone, but her smiling face radiated an inner joy and hope for a happier future


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