Wednesday, 28 September 2011

"You're my best friend" - Reflection

I sat down an hour ago to write a blog on emotionally immature sporting stars. This was triggered by reports of the behaviour of a racing driver called Louis Hamilton and a footballer called Tevez.

Sad events have overtaken me.  My observations can wait. There will always be opportunities to write about physically mature, materially wealthy, but emotionally immature sporting stars who are a pain. 

Though now I think about it, I've already covered this on September 16th. I won't bother again.


It is the most magnificent September day. Apparently there are more to come. It's the sort of bonus that I wrote about three weeks ago:

The phone rang. It was one of those calls that thankfully you only receive infrequently. The voice is familiar, but out of time and place. You express a delight on hearing them, but as you're speaking, you know it's bad news, otherwise they wouldn't be ringing.

It was my friend's husband. My friend died last Friday. He didn't want to go into detail, but I guessed correctly at the underlying cause.

I say friend, but I hadn't seen her in years, though we were always planning a meeting. We spoke about once a year and always sent Christmas cards. Our birthdays were only a week apart. I always sent her a card, she very rarely remembered mine.

When we did speak, the conversation always started with the same greeting: "Hello, you old tart".

We met at Junior School, aged 5. She had an alliterative name and so did I. We followed each other in the register.

She was always there. I can't remember a school time without her. We scraped into Senior School and spent our teenage years in the same forms too. Known as 'bottom division', we were a little neglected educationally. More time for fooling about. She was a fantastic artist and very creative. My artistic abilities at 15 were not much improved on those at 5. They are still not.

I moved two buses away from school, but used to hang out after school with her on Tuesdays. I would go to her home with her and her mother would say, "I knew you were coming, I've made a cake." It became a joke.  My own domestic circumstances had become well and truly disfunctional by then, so feeling welcome at a 'family home' was a treat and something I never forgot.

We mucked around. It was the era of two comedians called, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They had a TV series called 'Not only, but Also' and were very funny. The measure of their talent is that despite their premature deaths, they are still considered very funny 45 years later.  Two particular characters they played, were Pete and Dud. These Oxford graduates would dress up in flat caps and macs, and talk with working class accents about various matters of the day.

We would leave school and walk down the hill talking in Pete and Dud voices. We never had a conversation without using Pete and Dud voices at some point, even over 40 years later.

I'm trying to think if pop music played it's part in our friendship, but it didn't. We were into laughing together. Laughing a great deal.

One night, we were babysitting her younger sister. We found some creme de menthe, got silly and ran round the garden with no clothes on. No harm done. Just being silly.

We remained silly when together, but as an artist, the London school bohemian 'set' became her social friends. She could become intense, pulling her long hair over her face and brooding.  My attention span isn't long enough to do brooding, so I couldn't understand her behaviour. 

Only a few years later and alcohol and other substances begun to have a greater influence on her. I still to this day, don't know why I didn't go down a similar route. The signs were there. The family background, anti-authoritarian, the rebelliousness, the anti-social behaviour, but I refused to go where I was being led. We shall never really know why.

We married and had beloved children. They were decidedly better behaved than we were and their schooldays were a good deal more successful. We would laugh and be amazed at how we could be their mothers. 

Regrets? As I sit here, of course I wonder if I could have helped, been a better friend, stopped a decline? But I doubt it. She knew I was always at the end of a phone and always had been. There will always be regrets, but as I tell people, the road of "If only..." and "What if..." is a road to madness. There are no answers. Certainly not the ones we want.

So, thank you my friend. You've got great company wherever you are. Too many of that school year have already died, most of the 'bohemian' set and our mutual dear friend, Margaret, too. Perhaps you both have the time to be the artists you always wanted to be.
I hope so. Pete and Dud are there too.

Out of sight, but you will never be out of mind. 
With my love and friendship forever,
Goodbye you old tart. x


Thursday, 22 September 2011

"It's not me, it's you" - self awareness.

A friend came to York to see his daughter settled in at university. We all met in the city centre and I took them to a cafe in one of the wonderful back streets. One of York's many hidden gems.

My heart sunk a little when I saw the waitress. She has worked in the cafe for many years, but her manner can be a little off putting. Her voice is loud and a bit 'in yer face'.  She welcomed us a little too fulsomely and there was no subtly in her manner. I have noticed that the cafe tends to attract tourists, rather than regulars, but the cafe is quirky and the food is great, so worth a visit.

The waitress took the order from my friend's 21 year old daughter and then addressed me to the young woman, as "your mother'. We all laughed. I'm old enough to be the young woman's grandmother and her father is over a decade younger than I am. Not an impossible arrangement, I agree, but way off beam in these circumstances.

It's easy though to make assumptions. As we mature, we attempt to learn to 'engage brain before opening mouth.'  2 + 2 can often make 5. I'm sure we can all think of times we spoke first without thinking and rather wish we hadn't.

Why we can make wrong assumptions is written about in a blog from July:

It may be that the waitress cannot help her manner, so I make no judgements. But it does lead me to write about being self aware. 

A man told me that he didn't have any friends. Bold, black and white statements should always be gently challenged. He told me that, for instance, he was a regular at the pub and everyone avoided him. He was unable to think of a reason why they did or at least wasn't expressing it.

One of the resources that helps human beings with problem solving is the ability to be able to observe themselves. It has been called the observing self and acts like a internal CCTV camera. We can imagine ourselves looking at our own behaviour. I am not talking about disassociation here, but think it is probably connected in some way.

Being our own 'fly on the wall' can be uncomfortable at times, but very helpful for reflection and personal understanding. Especially in any sort of relationship problem. People who can recognise that they are acting like, "a spoilt brat", "a little princess", "a five year old", are all using their observing self.

I asked the man to take an imaginary trip to the pub with me. I suggested that as we walk through the doors, we see him sitting at the bar. I suggested that he looks a decent enough bloke and we should go over and join him.

The response was a fierce, "No!"

I asked him why we shouldn't joining him at the bar. He replied that he was an arsehole, who tried to take his mates' girlfriends off them. 

Now there was something tangible to discuss.

If we do not use this personal resource, we may continue to behave in ways that do not produce helpful results, meanwhile blaming others.

Einstein is attributed as giving this explanation of insanity. "To keep doing the same thing and expecting different results."

Or as it is used these days: If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got.

If you want something to change, start viewing.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Tantrums galore - emotional immaturity.

I had been in practice for a little while, when I realised that for the majority of clients, while I was seeing an adult sitting in front of me, I was witnessing the emotional behaviour of a child. It could be in the language that they were using or in some physical behaviour. Many of the clients could recognise it too.  It was not unusual to hear, "I feel like I'm four, five, six or seven...".

Not only did I find it fascinating, but it provided enormous clues as to how to help the client to look for solutions to the presenting problems. Why were they exhibiting such behaviour? The answers generally weren't difficult to find. 

Actual or perceived unmet emotional needs or needs met in an unhealthy way as a child. The child that they were behaving like in front of me. 

The needs are listed in this blog:

As a trained nursery nurse and someone who had run a toddler group for years, I was only too aware of the verbal and non verbal behaviour of emotionally distressed children. It was observations in the practice and my own life, over the years, that led to my particular interest in emotional maturity/emotional intelligence and it's role in mental health. 

My observations haven't always met with agreement from other colleagues and I especially remember the head of a mental health charity telling me in no uncertain terms, that he had never seen an adult behaving like a child. My thoughts were that he was missing vital information that could be helpful.

My husband has work in Australia and keeps in touch with their newspapers online. He found the following link:

You can make up your own mind.


Monday, 12 September 2011

9/11 postscript

This blog is a postscript to the previous one.

Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. A truly horrific event. By the end of the day, I found the coverage to be fairly horrific too. In the UK it was wall to wall, so goodness knows what it was like in the States.

By the time I went to bed and couldn't tune in to either of my usual late night radio stations without further coverage, I was feeling exasperated.

Pick, pick, picking at the terrible wounds.

A woman was on TV in the early evening talking about the amount of health problems amongst the 9/11 fire fighters. She mentioned an increase of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as the anniversary of 9/11 approached.

I could have wept and not at the scenes on TV and radio.

Where is the understanding of brain function and PTSD? Where is the understanding that all this exposure to the events 10 years ago can trigger PTSD?

In the previous blog I wrote about memories being stored in a memory bank, with most of the emotion removed.  I didn't write that each memory taken out of the memory bank becomes a new memory, with emotion attached and the process of filing in the memory bank starts all over again. Poor old brain. 

Wounds than may have healed could be opened up again. Pick, pick pick...

Obviously not everyone exposed to a traumatic event develops PTSD, but yesterday's overload will undoubtedly not have helped vulnerable people. Even people who had nothing to do with 9/11, but have memories that will be resurrected due to the images seen or sounds heard. This also happened at the time of Princess Diana's death.

It's so avoidable and I despair at the ignorance, even amongst mental health professionals.

For service personnel:


Saturday, 10 September 2011

"If you pick it, it won't get better". Emotional wounds.

I woke up this morning. The radio was on. There was a woman crying. A younger woman (it turned out to be her daughter) said, "Don't keep talking about it." The woman said, "We must keep talking about it."


It was 9/11.

I wanted to shout at the radio, but then I generally do want to shout, when people insist that talking about something emotionally painful ad nauseum will help healing.

Really? Why do they think that?

If I have a physical wound, with some care, it should heal. If a doctor or nurse told me to attend the surgery every week, where they would tear the scab off, take a scalpel to the wound, put on a new dressing and tell me to go home, I would have grounds to sue them for negligence. The wound would become toxic, spread, not heal and I could become extremely unwell. I could die.

Are emotional wounds so different?

An emotional wound is acquired. They are a normal part of a healthy life.  How and why we have been hurt is now immediately in the past and has become a memory.  It hurts. It hurts like hell.  We need to make sense of it. We may want to change it.  We replay the memory over and over again. We re-live the memory in all its minutiae.  We pick at the memory. It leaves a scar. The more picking, the larger the scar.

It is also to Big Pharma's benefit that the wounds stay toxic and some other businesses too, especially therapeutic businesses.

The brilliant brain has been created to deal with memories of every type. The memory will stay fresh in the mind and then move to another part of the brain for storage. A memory bank. A place where the memory can be filed with the millions of other memories we have in a lifetime. Filed away very deeply and with all or nearly all of the attached emotion removed. The memory is labelled, just in case we might need it again.

The brain's filing system is not perfect.  It's filing system is a bit like 'Google'. We key in a something we're looking for and hundreds of matches come up, most totally unsuitable. More often than not, we're not even looking for anything particular ourselves. Something sensory in our environment triggers the brain 'google' search and up comes a memory match.  We can experience an emotional hijack. Ready to be picked over - if we chose to. eg: Hearing a snatch of some music.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the extreme of this memory matching. There is no choice available. Professional help should be sought, but not help where talking about the trauma over and over is encouraged. Memories can be de-traumatised without the need for talking about them. In fact talking about painful memories, can create PTSD.

Memories, even terrible ones, that can be 're-told' like a story, are not traumatic anymore. They are called narrative memories.
Memories than are 're-lived' in the retelling, are traumatic memories.
Memories than haven't been traumatic, can become traumatic with too much re-telling. (De-briefing after major incidents has had to be re-assessed, as it can create more problems than it solves.)

My July blog on trauma:

This week, a well known British comedian, David Walliams, is swimming up the River Thames, for the Comic Relief Charity.  I don't particularly warm to the man himself, but I admire his strength of character and how he is using his fame to raise a considerable amount of money.

The first 60 miles of riverside didn't mean much to me, but the next stretch of 80 miles to London is like a trip down a personal memory lane from 1949 -1994. Last night, his stop was in a town called Marlow in Buckinghamshire. His arrival was on TV and as I watched, a lump appeared in my throat and tears welled. A bucket load (18 years) of memories flooded my brain.

I had a choice. To wallow in the flood, picking at the wounds (happy and sad) or put the file away again and deal with the present. I indulged myself and wallowed for a while, then filed it away again.

9/11. I read today of someone from New York, who is moving out of the city for the weekend of commemorative events. He said, "I will remember it, but I don't need to re-live it."

This man has made a choice.  Perhaps a wiser one than the woman mentioned at the start of this blog. He is showing emotional intelligence.


Thursday, 1 September 2011

Expecting the best. September

This morning I went downstairs, opened the back door and breathed in.

September 1st. It felt good.  

But why? It's not much different from yesterday.

The weather is still overcast and a bit chilly...again. Finances are still causing me a little concern. The pile of ironing is still too high. 

But yesterday was August. Another August of unfulfilled expectations of summer weather and associated activities. Yes, it had its high spots, but overall there was a feeling of disappointment. I don't think I'm alone.

Today though is different. It's September. The sweater that was needed yesterday and resented, now feels just right and cosy. The blackberries, changing leaf colour on the trees and wood smoke seemed out of place yesterday. Today they feel good.

We expect less of September than August, or, at least, something different. Generally our expectations are exceeded. I feel the same about the month of May too.

(For the readers elsewhere in the world, you may want to change the month. The observations remain the same.)

There's hope too. In the UK, September signals a new academic year. A year of the new, the unknown, the possibilities. Even decades later in adulthood, people will speak of those 'beginning of the new term' feelings. The new clothes, new pens and books. The feeling of being more grown-up. A little fearful too, maybe, but excited.

I'm an optimist. My mother is a pessimist, though dementia has removed that element of her cognitive powers.

Her argument for pessimism being a helpful state of mind,  was that she was never disappointed. 

My argument was that I had such fun imagining the best, even if there was disappointment at the end.

Optimism and Pessimism. Back to the Nature v Nurture?

All I know is, that when life has been at its grimmest, I have never failed to wake up with hope in my heart, even if it was dashed five minutes later. Tomorrow, literally, was another day.

In my own life, I believe that attitude has been a life saver. If I'd thought the worst on waking, I am not too sure that I would have survived. Of the many free 'gifts' we receive as human beings, I am most thankful for my optimism.

Where does emotional growth come in this thinking? 

In the main, our adult expectations are built on childhood foundations. If we carry positive childhood experiences with us into adult expectations, the risk of disappointment can be high. The experiences will not and cannot be the same, however hard we try.

If we carry negative childhood experiences into adult expectations, we can miss out on a great deal that life has to offer. We need to 'grow up' and learn to recognise and if needed, separate the emotions of the child and the adult.

Our brain is like a paint palette. We grow up with someone else holding the brush. In adulthood, we can take the brush and paint our own picture. 

I've seen too many people trying to live in someone else's picture. It doesn't work.

I've posted a new profile picture. This one was taken last month. The other one was taken in April 2009.

The picture is different. That was then. This is now.