Monday, 31 October 2011

"Ssshh, listen..." Quiet strength

I have returned from a great three days in Brighton. I attended a conference for Soroptimists International Great Britain and Ireland, as a member of the York Ebor club. The theme of the year is 'Inspiring Action, Transforming Lives.' 

As I listened to inspiring speakers, attended workshops, meetings and parties, I observed the human behaviour of 1500, mostly middle aged women. I had a number of blog subjects running through my head.

Unfortunately, the day before I went to Brighton, I had a silly accident on a London bus, which involved wrenching the little finger on my right hand on the handrail. Four fingers went forwards up the stairs, while the little finger stayed behind the bracket. Ouch!

The resulting tendon and soft tissue damage means that my key board time is limited, but I still wanted to write something for blog, especially as I missed writing last week.

So I've chosen to include the Aesop Fable of the competition between the North Wind and the Sun. This came to mind, after reflecting on how women achieved being heard in many challenging situations,  how they overcame childhood difficulties, plus watching the hustings for an officer's election.

I have 'cut and paste' for ease.

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.
"We shall have a contest," said the Sun.
Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.
"As a test of strength," said the Sun, "Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man."
"It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat," bragged the Wind.
The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.
Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.
The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.
Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.
"How did you do that?" said the Wind.
"It was easy," said the Sun, "I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way."

Of course, there are times we have to shout, but the quiet strength and dignity of some of the women achievers I observed over the three days, has left a powerful impression.   


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"Let go...please." - Emotional baggage

I was in the kitchen making the evening meal.  My favourite 'Drivetime' programme was on the radio. An entertaining mix of news, views and music, held together by a top presenter, Simon Mayo.

Monday is book day. The mountaineer, Joe Simpson, was being interviewed about his new book, ‘The Sound of Gravity’. I didn’t think I was particularly interested, until he said,  "Don't drag your past around, it will ruin your present and destroy your future." Words that were music to my ears. I stopped chopping up vegetables for the stir fry and listened.

Then I remembered where I had heard about Joe Simpson before. Some years ago I'd been babysitting for my son, when he told me that I should watch the film, 'Touching the Void'. I couldn’t understand why I should be interested in a mountaineering story, even it was true. I was so wrong. It was an incredible and inspiring story and well worth watching. The film wasn’t so much about climbing, as one man’s struggle for life against the most incredible odds. Joe Simpson's struggle.
In practice, I have used Joe's experiences as illustrations for managing life’s dark, lonely and unrelentingly miserable times. This man fell into a very deep, dark crevasse high up in The Andees.  His friend had left him for dead. After a time, all he could see was a pin prick size of light very high up and a long way away.  Light brings hope. He knew that the light would be the only means of escape, so he slowly inched his battered body towards the light. The light became a little larger until many hours later, he had managed to crawl up the rocks to where there was a hole in the side of the mountain letting in the light. He scrambled out of the hole, only to find himself on a glacier and he slid hundreds of yards downhill. I'm sure I remember him having a broken leg too.
I recommend the book and film. I think it should be shown in every school to teenagers.
The phrase Joe used on the radio, about dragging the past around, was picked up by the interviewer.  Joe repeated. "Don't let the past destroy the future."  He agreed that it wasn't easy to do, but if you want a decent future, you have to do do it. 

The alternative is to spend the present being emotionally hijacked by the past. Or "emotionally limping through life", as someone once said to me:

In day to day life, when our senses are assaulted by thousands of words and images, sometimes we only ‘hear’ or ‘see’ things because they relate to a matter we’re dealing with personally at the time.  Perhaps that’s why Joe Simpson’s words seem to leap out of the radio on Monday.
A decision has to be made. One person is looking at the facts in the present and with an eye on the future. Another person is looking at the present, with their eyes and emotions firmly fixed in the past.

My all time favourite quote is:
"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door, that we do not see the one which has been opened for us." Helen Keller. 

After working with people's emotional health problems for over fifteen years, I can say that the majority of people have had their eyes firmly fixed behind them, dragging the emotional baggage with them. It doesn't make for an easy or healthy life.

Joe Simpson’s mention of heavy baggage reminded of this teaching tale. There are many variations, but the ending is always the same.  

There were two monks walking from one village to another. On the way they came to a stream which they had to cross. On the bank they saw a young woman standing, afraid to cross it.
One of the monks said, “I will carry you to the other side”. He took her on his back, and carried her to the other side of the stream.
After crossing the road, the two monks continued walking silently for hours, until they reached their destination.
The other monk could not keep silent any longer and exclaimed:” How could you carry that girl on your back? We are monks and are not allowed to touch women.”
The monk who carried the women over the puddle smiled and said: “I have left the girl at the other side of the stream, but it seems you are still carrying her with you.”

You may say, "But terrible things may have happened to your clients?" Indeed they may have done, but it's not the events that can ruin someone's life, it's how they manage the aftermath.

My friend Sue Hanisch had something terrible happen to her:

In the late 1990s, I was working on a psychiatric unit as a nursing assistant. I was writing in a client's file and came across an alcohol assessment form. The questions fascinated me. It was the first time I'd ever come across anything that related to events in my own life. Out of curiosity, I mentally filled the form in for myself.  I was shocked. I scored considerably higher than the client.

I said to the senior nurse, "I don't understand this. With the score on this form, I should be in here as a client, not a nurse. Why aren't I?"

She ran her thumb down her spine and said, "Backbone". I disagreed and knew that wasn't quite right, but didn't know what the real answer was. Her comment also concerned me about how she was approaching some of the clients.

A few years later I came across the following and knew what a major difference was:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. the only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our Attitudes.” 
Charles R. Swindoll

A change of attitude can change our life.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"You just don't think!" - Consequences

It was one of my mother's favourite sayings, when I had got into some sort of trouble. I would say, "I didn't think..." and she would come back at me before I'd even finished the sentence, "That's right, you just don't think..."

Now I'm older, I know why I didn't think. My brain was developing and it hadn't reached the point where I could understand and visualise the consequences of my actions. This is where I have a problem with people who insist that children who get into trouble obviously haven't been taught right from wrong. I certainly knew right from wrong, but didn't fully understand the consequences of any 'wrong' action. Punishment didn't really help.

I was tempted by the 'short term gain', but couldn't understand about 'long term pain'. Immature brains are not able to process that sort of thinking. Children's behaviour and emotionally immature adults tend towards being impulsive, where the 'short term gain' is paramount and little thought is given to 'long term pain.' 

For examples:

Which is why it is important if using a threat or punishment with a child, to make it something that will take effect in the next few hours. No longer. Also, make it actionable and carry it out. Definitely a subject for another blog.

It is my belief that the ability to understand that actions lead to consequences comes slowly with the maturity of the emotional brain. This appears to occur at different times for different people. There are also evidence arising from research, that a male brain may emotionally mature later than a female brain. Why, I've no idea, as it doesn't seem to be very useful. I'm sure there are many readers who could comment on this observation. 

'Short term gain' is all any person with an impulsive behaviour problem can see and that can occur at any age. I have a fascination with emotional maturity, because it lies behind many problems presented by adults. They experience an emotional hijack and appear unable to control it. This is why I believe that many 'mental' health problems should really be described as 'emotional' health problems.

Why has this subject come to mind this week? It's arisen from my friend's death and the previous two blogs. Of all the deaths I've experienced in my life, her death is proving the hardest to get my head round for a variety of reasons.

I knew my friend from the age of five.  She appeared to have a most secure background. I did not. In conversation with another schoolfriend, we recognised that she could go into some dark, introspective moods around the age of 16/17, as did one of her other friends.  It was certainly when her alcohol and relationship troubles started. We will never understand why we have survived and she has not.

But I'm haunted by a memory of one evening in the late 1960s. We were in my friend's bedroom with two male friends from the pub. Just chatting, drinking, no sex. A joint was handed around. The first one I'd seen. I declined. I can vividly remember thinking at the time, "I'm not happy what this might lead to...", though it was still early days of the drug scene. Those thoughts didn't stop me smoking cigarettes for a couple of years or becoming pregnant a little earlier than I had planned. Drugs were a different matter. There was no pressure from the friends.  A couple of years later my friend was having her stomach pumped after an overdose of heroin, that nearly killed her.

I had a label of being rebellious. I wasn't inclined to do what I was told and certainly not by people who were over authoritative. I still don't understand why I just didn't go ahead with another act of rebellion. A very common one too. I have racked my brain over the years and I can only think that maybe, a 'don't tell me what to do' attitude saved me.

Decades later, my second husband told me, "I know how to get the best out of you." "Really", I thought.
He said, "I let you do anything you want to do and then you don't want to do half of it." How true.

I can recall an episode when I was a very little girl playing with a toy shop and post office. I loved it. Perhaps that's where my future career with Waitrose began? There was a little cheque book. I scribbled something on it. My mother wanted to teach me how to write a cheque out properly.  I refused. She was furious. Is that when I started reacting against authority figures?

It was a sign of years of arguments.  No, I couldn't be a paper girl. So I got up early before she was awake and it was many weeks before she discovered that activity. No, I couldn't have a bank account. So I went and opened a Post Office account of my own. Neither of these appear particularly reckless activities, do they? But I was reckless at times.

I knew shoplifting was wrong, but somehow couldn't stop myself. I did it for years and got into trouble too, but managed to talk myself out of it (lie myself out of it), but it still didn't stop me. Until the day, around the same time as the cannabis episode, when I stood in a shop and was about to steal some sweets. There was a moment of clarity and I saw the future as a convicted thief unable to complete my college course and get a job. I never shoplifted again. In fact the poacher turned gamekeeper.

From what I have learnt, I now believe that my brain reached a different sort of maturity at that time.

I do believe that adults should be punished if they break the law. But I fully support the scheme where perpetrators of crimes can meet their victims and perhaps understand more fully, the consequenses of their actions.

I sometimes use water and colouring in a clear bowl to demonstrate actions and consequenses in workshops. I fill the large bowl with water and drop it one drop of a food colouring. It's quite hypnotic to watch, as the colour drops and then gently swirls around until eventually all the water is coloured, from just one drop. Then I may add another colour and see everything change again.

My picture (av) on Twitter is a drop of water and ripples. I wanted the same for this blog, but couldn't find the right image.

The ripple effect. It powerful stuff. One action. Sometimes one small action. The ripples go on and on and on...


Thursday, 6 October 2011

"I'm sad" - Labels.

My friend's funeral was on Tuesday. I cried. I cried more than I thought I would.

Today I still feel sad and tears lie just under the surface. But that's okay. It's okay to feel sad. I'm not going to rush to my GP and ask to be put on anti-depressants.  A bit dramatic? Not at all. It happens.

Over the last two days I've have had so many topics for this blog run through my head. Though perhaps I've covered some of them before. long should you feel sad for? 
For another day.

Guilt: Is it a useful emotion?
For another day.

Alcohol. The biggest killer of the minds and bodies of my friends over the years. A blog on addiction from June:

Food and drink companies. Making profits from misery. A related blog from June:

Friends. The need for fun and friendship. When friends are more important than family. A related blog from August:

Therapy. Can you have too much? Does what you're looking for exist?

Secrets. At what age should children stop being protected?
For another day.

...and on and on...

On the way to the funeral, I read this posted tweet from another therapist and thought the next blog would be titled 'Labels'.

"Examine the labels you apply to yourself. Every single label is a 
boundary or a limit of one kind or another. ~ Wayne Dyer

It touched a schoolfriend's response to the previous blog and the mention of being in 'bottom division' in school. 

She wrote:"...PHS certainly had many talented, unrecognized characters in 'bottom division' and I cherish those memories..."

Then this morning, one of the founders of the Apple organisation, Steve Jobs has died.

The airwaves and internet are full of tributes and some of his quotes.

This has been my favourite: 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is 


Putting the two quotes together, I've come up with, "Don't go round wearing a label that someone else has attached to you. If you believe it, it could wear you down."

"You're our anxious one"
"You're still our baby"
"You're stupid/a waste of space/were never wanted/hopeless"
"You'll achieve nothing."
"You're just like your mother/father."
"Slow to learn, sure to fail" from a previous blog:

It's not only negative labels that can cause problems. Filling someone with overly positive expectations may not be helpful either. There are many people who leave school believing that they are 'clever' and 'special', who find the world full of other 'clever' and 'special' people.

Here's a short exercise: 
1. Think of a belief that you have about yourself.
2. Think of it being written on a label that you wear every day.
3. Who gave you that label?
4. When did they give you that label?
5. Why did they give you that label?
6. Have you grown older since you were given that label?
7. Is there any evidence that the label is now out of date, if it was even true in the first place?
8. Remove the label and destroy it.
9. Read the quote from Steve Jobs many times.