Monday, 22 April 2013

"I ain't gonna die wonderin"

Many years ago, there was a radio broadcast of a Rugby League match.  One of the commentators was Australian. A particularly powerful tackle had taken place on the field. The commentator, in rich 'strine' said, "Well, he ain't gonna die wonderin'." It's was a wonderful expression and since then, it's been used quite often as a motivational quote at home.

On a visit to Australia, we learnt that its origins may have come from the world of prostitution, which makes sense and provides a smile.

So what's that got to do with this blog?


In 2006, I had a idea about writing down some of my thoughts and ideas, as a psychotherapist. I had always enjoyed writing and items or letters I had written had been published over the years. The first published letter was in the Guardian in 1969, in response to an article about Nannys going off with their charges' fathers. My employers, a couple of barristers, were quite amused when colleagues asked whether it was their nanny, who had written that she had no intention running off with the husband. (It was the address that gave me away.)

My colleagues, Wendy Amey and Gail Rhodes were supportive of my ideas, which gave me encouragement to proceed. Wendy and I got up speed and by 2007, publishing a book in 2008, was looking a strong reality. I spoke and wrote about my ideas, where they met with strong challenges and some opposition. All good experience, not only for the future, but to help me clarify my thinking.

Then life events intervened in a big way. Family ill health and an unexpected house renovation took over my life and while I just about kept the practice going, with the support of Gail, book writing disappeared. Though I started to write this blog, which helped fill the gap.

The years passed and I entered another decade. One life event took over from another, providing me with loads of reasons and excuses why the book couldn't be written. Then last October, my decks cleared, the reasons disappeared and I was left with no excuses for not writing the book.

Motivation and confidence was low, so I took a chance of going on the book publishing workshop in December. It gave me the 'kick up the backside' that I needed.

I have an intetested publisher, a supportive blog readership and strong feelings on mental and emotional health problems. Social networking has grown and is a great tool. E-books that five years ago were being rubbished by the publishing trade are now being given equal status as hard backs and paperbacks.

The time is right, but I'm nervous. I feel like a diver, who started off jumping in from the pool side and then progressed through the different height boards. Even as I'm writing this, I'm amazed to find my legs are a bit jelly-like, as I prepare for a leap off a height I've not done before.

Most of the time, I have complete faith in my thoughts and ideas, but then I wobble. Just as I start to wobble, something in the news steadies me and I feel as if I'm given a gift of support. I never know where it's going to come from, but it appears. Today the support comes from a footballer called Luis Suarez and the Childcare Minister, Elizabeth Truss.

The two may not seem to go together, but I believe they do.

I have given myself a pseudonym. This is for a variety of reasons. Some personal, Some professional. I have a website, Twitter name, Facebook page, LinkIn page and a different blog. There are business cards, a graphic artist working on the book cover and a publisher waiting.

I had a little practice last Saturday, when I announced my intentions officially to a small, friendly, supportive group of colleagues. I am more than happy to speak to a room full of people on a variety of subjects, without notes and do so, quite often.  So I was slightly taken aback to find myself feeling nauseous and wobbly. That was a valuable lesson.

Today, I'm going to jump off the next board (the top one is publication day). I going to let my previously shy, twin sister, take over.

And the main reason for doing this?

 I realised that the years are passing by and whatever happens...

"I ain't gonna die wonderin!"

Here goes.........................................


Rita Leaman jumped off and Alison R Russell surfaces.


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Workplace behaviour

The Easter holidays have finished. A parent in a group I was with, said she was relieved to get away from the constant bickering of her children, particularly the "They've got more than me" variety. She explained how she was now weighing their cereal, to ensure equal portions.

Some of us commiserated and the discussion proceeded to our own childhood experiences. I had to admit, that though my grandsons' bickering drives me to distraction on occasion, my sister and I were no better.

Then I remembered another  conversation I had recently. I attended an event for a group of women, mostly over pensionable age. One woman recognised me and told me that she had been in a local group, where I did some chocolate tasting, as a fund raising event.  I said that I hoped she had enjoyed it. "Well,  I didn't get any chocolate." I explained that there were platefuls of various chocolate around the room for everyone to enjoy. "Well", she said petulantly, "I didn't get any."

This woman held a senior position in a voluntary organisation, was certainly of pensionable age, yet looked at me like some bolshy child. I thought her behaviour was pathetic. Interestingly perhaps, the organisation was one for young girls. It wouldn't be the first time I've observed adults behaving like the age group they work with.

Last month I was invited to lunch in a large organisation. One of the middle managers sat next to me. On finding out that I was writing a book, asked me what it was about. "Emotional maturity", I explained, "particularly focussing on why adults sometimes behave like children." "Oh, we could do with that here", was her immediate response.

This manager had an abrasive manner and ran her department on a "do as I say and don't argue" basis, which I believe came from above. 

As a group of us were being shown around the new building, another employee gave us instructions to hold the handrail, while going up some stairs. There was even a picture and written instructions on the wall by the handrail. "If you are seen not holding on to it, you will get into trouble." 

Is it any wonder that there are problems with adult staff behaving like children. They are not allowed to think for themselves and common-sense has been replaced by the fear of a Health and Safety report.

My behaviour at school at 17 wasn't great. It had never been great. As a result, I never achieved any position of responsibility and was often in trouble.

For some unknown reason, somebody thought of making me a sub-prefect for the last term and half. My behaviour changed almost overnight.

I belong to a group, where one member is disrupting meetings, by making undermining asides to whoever she's sitting next to. It's becoming a problem. 

I recognise the behaviour. It's what I used to do in the back row of class or church - when I was under 18. This woman is a 70 year old, highly intelligent professional, who had a high profile in work.

The behaviour is similar, but the reasons are different. I had the attention span of a flea and was just a silly, immature girl. This woman has lost her professional status due to retirement and is having trouble adapting to a different life. 

I grew out of my behaviour - most of the time. She has some growing up to do.

You're never too old to grow up. Keep the childlike qualities, but leave behind the childish. 

There's a difference? Yes. Basically, childlike moments can bring happiness and delight, while childish behaviour tends to create misery for the giver and receiver. 

“ I knew he was childish. I just wanted my childhood back.” 

Woman on phone talking about her husband


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Is being a victim a life choice?

I have been to a college reunion. The college was part of a Children's Home and we were training to be Nursery Nurses. As I was returning home, I knew what this blog would be about. 

Then I thought that I must have written about this subject before, as it's one of my favourites. A 'search' has revealed that I started to write this blog in September 2009, but never finished or published it.

So here is the beginning from 2009. I will follow it up with further thoughts from this week in 2013.

'Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.' A well known Buddist saying.

Is it a given that if something awful happens to you, that you become a victim? Can you choose to become a victim?

I was prompted to remember the saying above, by an ex teacher who appeared on the programme about excluded children. I am not denying that the attack he suffered by a pupil wasn't shocking, nor that his injuries weren't serious. As he listed the problems that he was still experiencing, he said, "my life has been ruined by..." I couldn't help but think, "but it doesn't have to be like that. You are choosing to have a ruined life".

Some of you may be reading that and taking a sharp intake of breath and wondering what do I know about the aftermath of traumatic events? Well, more than I did 12 years ago and if sharing some of that knowledge on here, can help just one person, then it's worth it.

Have you ever thought why two people can experience a similar traumatic event and one person's life seems to be ruined, while the other person recovers? Why does that happen?

Well, it's much more than I can blog about here, but in case this is relevent to you or someone you know, I am going to give a few pointers.

That is how I started in 2009. It would appear I was going to write about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but I've done that elsewhere, so I'm going to write about control.

As I'm writing, a biting wind is howling through the bare trees. Snow and chaos are being reported in other parts of the UK and I can imagine that many people are going to blame the weather for ruining the day, weekend, holiday, wedding, outing and so on. Or important regional meeting, as in my case.

A headline on a newspaper reads, "The lottery ruined my life."  How the newspapers love a story like that. In fact, tabloids thrive on anything or anybody that has "ruined my life." An immediate 'must read, get emotionally aroused and outraged'.

It's the second time I've heard the "... has ruined my life" expression this week. The first time was at the reunion. There were women in their sixties and a man in his late forties. He had been a child in the children's home from two weeks to five years, moving on the other homes until adulthood.

How many of you think that it must have been the man who said it?

No, it was one of the women. She had recently sold her house in the south and bought a beautiful, large house in her son's partner's home town in the north, where she didn't know anyone. Her son, partner and grandchild had moved north through redundancy. It has been a disaster. "I thought we could all live in the house happily ever after." How old is she emotionally? In fact the reported behaviour of all the adults, left us wondering about the EQ of them all and most concerned about the child.

We supported her and comforted her. She said, " They have ruined my life". Before I could speak, another friend said what I was thinking. Her own daughter has problems with addiction, amongst others. "No", she said, "they have not ruined your life. You are allowing them to ruin your life." There were nods of agreement from others, who knew from their own experiences, that she was correct.

Not easy to understand or believe. I certainly didn't want to, many years ago.

If we look at the difference between those who are victims and those who are not, one of the major differences is those who give control of their lives over to an event or other person and those who take control of their own life. Those who change the word 'ruined' to 'changed' agree that, " changed my life...", but will not allow to ruin their lives.

I feel I might be hearing some, "yes, but..." from some readers. Have a look around at your friends, family and wider circle. How have people dealt with life experiences? Do events control them or do they control their responses to events? People who have experienced the grimmest of circumstances have chosen not to become victims, whilst others have chosen that path.

The man, who attended the reunion sent us an email afterwards:

Dear All
It was delightful to meet up with many of you in the evening. It's hard to explain just how pleased it makes me to be able to meet and talk with people who knew me as child. You made a big difference to my life way back then and it continues to have an impact on me today. Growing up in care can leave some people with a sense of loss or abandonment but I can say that I have never felt like that. In fact I feel blessed to have had so many people looking out for me and to me you are all part of my family. As a child I used to tell people that I was brought up by angels and to me, that's what you always will be.

Lots of love,

He could so easily be going through life 'out of control', blaming his mother, unknown father and various institutions. He could be wearing that unhelpful label 'abandonment issues' round his neck and receiving treatment and on medication. 

He has his own family, home and good job. He has grown up chronologically, intellectually, physically and most importantly, emotionally.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

Criminal, illness or emotional immaturity?

The York Press newspaper has recently reported the case of a young man of 20 years old. He has been imprisoned for 16 months, because he has a shoe fetish and grabbed a high-heeled shoe from a woman, while she was wearing it. He had done this before.

While I acknowledge that the incidents could be frightening for a woman, the fetish could also be something slightly amusing in its weirdness.

I despaired. Sixteen months in jail. Exactly how is that going to stop this young man's behaviour? He is a poorly educated man of 20, with a younger emotional age. It's a fetish. A craving. An obsession. An addiction. 

In one of the reports I read, the authorities spoke of not being able to find out exactly why it was happening.

I thought of another case a few years ago in 2007. Not disimilar. A man with a fetish, uncontrollable behaviour and frightening people in his search for satisfaction.

I wrote a letter to the York paper and it was made the lead letter. I've found the letter in a file and instead of writing something similar again. I'm going to reprint my original letter to explain my thoughts.

The Press writes about Norman Hutchins,  “once again”, as he is jailed for three years. (Sept 4th 2007)

I am not excusing Mr Hutchin’s behaviour, but maybe there is a reason, which it doesn’t take a genius to work out.  The judge is wrong, it can be changed.

Mr Hutchins is on a desperate search for something.  He keeps looking but doesn’t find it.  In his case it would appear to be some sort of comfort, security and attention. I would guess that at some point in his upbringing, these vital childhood needs were met with something connected with health, doctors, hospitals or similar.  As an adult he, like all of us, still needs comfort, security and attention. But as an adult, he hasn’t been able to get these needs met in a healthy way, only and ironically, in an unhealthy way.  Emotionally he’s a frightened child.

There are many prisoners who are only back in prison because they have many of their needs met in prison and not in the outside world. eg: Friendship, community, boundaries and security.

If we look at the Strensall* gangs, it’s all about getting needs met, but in an anti-social way.  Attention, fun, security, friendship, status, sense of community, sense of achievement, feeling valued, meaning and purpose. Until these children’s needs are met in a healthy way,  the gangs will thrive and some of them too will end up in prison.

I expect there will be many readers who may dismiss my words, but I wonder how many readers are this very day seeking feelings of comfort, security and attention in their behaviours. They will be drinking and eating unhealthily, because they are searching for a feeling of comfort. They are spending money on gambling and on goods that they can’t afford, but it’s giving them a meaning and purpose.  They will seeking sex filled thrills to feel loved and valued. They will be working to a point of exhaustion, not because of needing the money, but because they are searching for a feeling of being good enough. Maybe they do need the money to pay for goods that really they only want, but don’t actually need, but these goods provide them with a feeling of status amongst their peers. Are we so different from Mr Hutchins?

A fetish sounds seedy, but grabs headlines. Mr Hutchins has an addiction, because he is craving a feeling he once had and is trying to find again. He won’t ever find it though, because it belongs in the past.  He is not alone as he chases rainbows. There is no pot of gold. 

Yours Sincerely

Rita Leaman

*A suburb of York

In 2013 my opinion hasn't changed. 


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Targets and boxes - frustrations

I popped into WH Smiths in Euston Station for a newspaper. Of course, I had to pass down the whole shop (and goods) to the tills. Self-service tills. There was a long queue. One assistant was taking goods from the customers and putting them through one of the self-service tills. Another supervisor was supervising him. There was no-one at the manned till.

(For the TV programme, Room 101, I will put in the automated voice, "Unidentified item in bagging area.")

It was a ridiculous situation and I remarked so to the man behind me, who concurred. When it came to my turn, the assistant took the paper and my money, while apologising for the situation.

"I am sorry, but we have targets."

"Don't worry, I replied, "I know all about targets." Don't we all?

There is a family history of osteoporosis in the family. I have kept it at bay, so far, but have bi-annual bone density scans to make sure all is ok.

On the visit to the GP to ask for a referral, she explained to me that she would do her best, but it was down to how many boxes I ticked. At least they're honest. It would appear I ticked enough boxes. I had the scan.

Many years ago I was on a train to London and chatted to a hospital consultant from Newcastle. He was on his way to a meeting about targets. He really didn't want to go, as it was taking him away from his 'proper' work. I feel matters have become far worse since then.

Due to negative equity, we lived for years in a rented flat in York, while owning a flat in the south of England. Have you ever tried to fill in a form where the boxes do not allow for your own personal circumstances. Are you an owner or do you rent a property? Yes, both. Sorry, we don't allow for that scenario.

I claim a State pension and have other paid work. Obviously a forerunner of the Government's intentions for all, very soon. The problem is that HMRC haven't caught up with matters yet. They can manage tax for someone claiming the state pension, but are not proving so hot with anyone who holds a pension and has other income. The problem with this, is that dealings with HMRC can be frustrating and cause distress for many.

Oh, the frustrations of modern life. I expect that has always been so. Some people thought the telephone was the devils's work. Some developments are great. But some are not. 

New machines and technology bring great bonuses, but are we losing the human touch and a person's individuality in the process?


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Who are they...really? (Plus some news.)

I don't usually write a follow-up blog from comments that arise, but this week I'm making an exception.

A friend wrote about how on attending a funeral, it struck them how someone who died can be seen in so many different lights. You can read her comments on Facebook. I had recently thought the same thing. Memories and opinions of the same person can be very different.

Some illustrations.

1. I had a wonderful uncle called Uncle Basil. A single man. We saw him about three times a year, always on family occasions with his sister, my mother.

Around late 80s, he became unwell. My sister lived the nearest and took charge, visiting doctors, opticians etc: but she found out that no-one knew who Basil was. They knew him as Fred. Indeed, that was his first name, but because it was his father's name, he was known as Basil in the family. One day, my exasperated sister said, "It's no good Basil, we're going to have to call you Fred." " Good", he responded, with feeling, "I've always hated the name Basil!"

A couple of years later, he sadly died. Two of us spoke at his very well attended funeral. An old friend from the same town spoke about the popular man called Fred. There was a hint of the fact that he was careful with his money.

I stood up and spoke about the wonderful brother and uncle, Basil, who amongst other things was very generous and a world traveller.

Afterwards, I felt as if the family were in a wedding line, as one after another wanted to shake our hands, say what a wonderful man Fred had been, but how the man Basil had been a revelation to them.

2. A friend from my teenage years died last year. He used to speak about his frustration with his mother. I had thought of her as the sort of mother, who was everything my mother wasn't. She was at the funeral and I thanked her for the kindness shown me as a regular visitor in the home at that time. This was because the relationship between and my mother was difficult, to say the least.
But my friend had thought my mother was wonderful, because she wasn't like his mother.

I was visiting my aunt in a Californian retirement community ten years ago. She asked me to go to the Sunday service with her in a local community hall. I was intrigued. The hall was packed and the average age was around 75-80. The speaker was a Mr De'Ath and the sermon was on the reading that week, which was about dying. This is all quite true.

I wondered what on earth he was going to say. I've remembered it. It was about how we are going to be remembered at our funerals. What will people say? Was there anything that we might want to change about ourselves? Interesting.

How will we be be remembered?

Better than this lady I hope.

A friend was visiting on his return from the funeral of the wife of a titled businessman. He was still bemused by what he had heard. The woman was known as a particularly difficult woman. The funeral was well attended by the businessman's friends and two sons. The vicar spoke about Lady S and uttered these words, " Lady S was a woman who held strong opinions and um, er...........she had lovely hair!"

I was at a talk yesterday, given by eight women, as part of International Women's week. They were studying Human Rights in York. They came from Sudan, Honduras, Liberia, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Iran and Somali. These were brave women, who, at home, lived with fear and violence, as daily companions. As a friend said, " They've jolted me out of my comfort."

I came away with a number of nuggets, but for this blog, the woman from Iran said, "Don't look for roles and labels. Just say your name and hello."

So often we jump to conclusions and get it wrong.

I have spent the week setting up social networking sites for the book I'm publishing in Autumn 2013. But you won't see my name on the book, website and other places. Rita writes blogs, but not books.

I hadn't planned this for today, but now I reached the end of the blog, perhaps I'll take this opportunity to introduce someone I've been calling my shy, twin sister.

Here goes...please welcome a new writer, Alison R Russell. 


Sunday, 24 February 2013

Who are you?

I'm fortunate to have a busy life and there is plenty to do, but this week has been one of the more varied weeks in my life. It started me thinking about the different roles we play in life and also, how important it is to keep in touch with our true selves at times. Not easy, when there so many other demands on one's time.

Sunday: Me. Spouse. Neighbour.
An ordinary Sunday at home. Gardening. Cooking. Reading. Neighbour pops in for coffee and chat.

Monday: Me. Spouse. Soroptimist club member. 
A morning of household admin and admin for a group I belong to, Soroptimist International.  
An afternoon of book writing. 

Tuesday: Me. Colleague. Therapist. Mum. 
Travel to another town to attend a workshop on ‘Anger’. Part of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). Meet some colleagues. Have a couple of conversations, where I can feel that I go into therapist mode. 
Travel to London to my son’s house, whereupon I’m mum. Treated lovingly, but as slightly scatty, older person. 

Wednesday: Grannie. Mum. Friend. 
A day with my grandson, who is on half-term, so full-on grannie role. A day that, from experience, usually turns out to be a 'what granny did next' day. This is confirmed when I manage to tip a full glass of red wine all over him at lunch. He takes this in good spirit. 
We meet up to have lunch with an old college friend and her brother, young nieces and nephew. She is on half-term auntie duty nearby and has concerns about her young charges, whose mother died two years ago. 
Return to son's house, to be slightly scatty, but endearing mum for the evening. Not much room for 'me' today.

Thursday:  Me. Spouse. Aunt. Acquaintance. 
Meet husband at station. Travel to the south-coast for sister-in-law’s funeral. A slightly surreal occasion, as many of the family and friends were all together four weeks ago, for a niece's wedding. Not an easy day for anyone, as sister-in-law had experienced a lifetime of problems, which led to problems for other family members. I don't have any 'blood' nieces or nephews, but by the end of a difficult day, feel more of a 'real' aunt than I have ever done. That's a new feeling.

Friday: Me. Spouse. Daughter. 
Same county, but go inland to visit my mother. My mother is in a nursing home and has dementia. Fortunately she knows who I am. But I share the same name as her older sister and for the first time, there were moments when she talked to me as if I was her sister. The dynamics switch through the afternoon, as I swing in her mind from caring older daughter to problem young child.  
Go out for dinner with husband. 

Saturday: Me. Spouse. Daughter. Sister. Sister-in-law. Acquaintance. 
I'm beginning to feel a little frustrated, as I haven't been able to write for four days. Not much 'me time' on my travels, except on trains, where I read. 
A surprise 60th party for brother-in-law. A group of sixteen people. A couple I had met before and most I heard about over the years.

Sunday: Me. Spouse. Sister. Sister-in-law. 
We had breakfast together in the hotel before starting the long journey home. Lots of time for me.

I think the matter of being aware as to what role I was playing, came to the fore after the funeral. I know my other roles quite well, some very well, but I felt something different on Thursday evening. Perhaps it was the wine?  

It also came home to me this week, that while we may like to be totally ourselves, it's not what we generally do. We 'tweak' ourselves to fit the environment we find ourselves in. Of course, not everyone does and there are people who either won't or don't alter their behaviour to fit the situation. They are not always the easiest of people to get along with. 

It's about a balance. Too much 'me' isn't healthy and nor is too little 'me' time, though the latter is what most of us are often only able to achieve. That is, until the age of retirement and/or ill health, which can bring its own problems of isolation.

Employers often talk about 'transferable skills'. Some people have difficulty with the idea. But it's not so difficult, if we think about the roles we play and what skills we use in those roles.  

There are also other roles we can play, which could help us.

My nine-year old grandson suggested to me that if he was going to do something naughty, then it might be a good idea to think "what would mummy and daddy say?" I was quite taken by such mature thinking, though I have no idea whether it came from him or from somewhere else. 

I replied that I did think it was a good idea, but remembering my own, less than gloriously behaved childhood, suggested that sometimes children don't care what mummy or daddy say or don't even have a mummy or daddy to care about them.  

Then we thought of other people in his life that he could think of when tempted to do something 'naughty'. His Italian grandfather seemed to lead the way in people he wouldn't want to upset.

This reminded me of something I wrote several years ago about self-discipline. As adults, this is something we should have learnt, but too often we behave as children, waiting to be shown the way by an adult.

As adults, we have knowledge and experience to be able to help ourselves.

A financial problem - what would our accountant or financial adviser self suggest?

A health problem - what would doctor or nurse self advise?

A motivation problem - what inspiration could we acquire from our teacher or coach selves?

A legal problem - what could the law enforcer self tell us of the consequenses of the action we're thinking of taking?

A best friend - what wisdom from life's experiences could our friend self share? 

As a therapist, there is one section of people who come into our lives, who I recommend we turn a deaf ear to. Despite being an adult, these people, sometimes quite influential, came into our lives when we were younger. What they said a long time ago, can still rattle around our heads as adults. We can recognise them, by how we feel when we 'hear those words'. If we feel like a 'not good enough' child, then they are the people we need to shut of our brain.

Those people who didn't have our true interests at heart, but were led by their own inadequacies. Those who have humiliated us. Belittled us. Never understood us. Those who can make us feel like a child. 

It's when we listen to those voices in our heads, that an idea of 'transferable skills', is squashed by feelings of "I'm a failure and no good at anything." That's rubbish thinking and should be disposed of as rubbish. 

We can have real role models too. I admire Eleanor Roosevelt, A UN Diplomat, Humanitarian and First Lady. (1884-1962) She said some wise words. Here are some:

" No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent"