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"


Saturday, 16 February 2013

From the study window - lessons in nature

After a period of cold, wet weather, I was glorying this morning in the sight of blue sky, sunshine and snowdrops.  I was reminded of how much nature provides us with for the lessons of life...if we want to learn them.  

Here are a few thoughts arising from the view from my study window.

Snowdrops: One of the most fragile flowers in the plant world. It's so easy to crush the stem, even with careful handling.  Yet, they come through the earth, when it's at its hardest and coldest. They thrive in those conditions. A fresh dumping of snow can arrive, disrupting the lives of millions, yet the snowdrop's fragile stem and flower head survives the surrounding chaos.

Roses: Roses are amongst the most sweet smelling and beautiful flowers. At the moment, they look brown and bedraggled. They thrive from being cut back and fed a great deal of manure. As do the most delicious autumn raspberries.

Clouds: The sun is always in the sky during daylight. It's just that sometimes cloud hides it. 

Rain: This time last year, there were concerns about a possible drought. The ground was dry. The aquifers were empty. The outlook was causing concern. We got what we wished for and are now dealing with the consequences.

Seeds: Seeds can be dried up, wrinkled and look worthy of throwing away. But given the right conditions of water, warmth and suitable environment, they will thrive, blossom and be fruitful.

Dead wood:  See above.

Rotting material: A neighbour gives the vegetable rubbish from his allotment to another neighbour, who keeps chickens. That neighbour gives us the waste chicken manure, which we put on our fruit and vegetable beds. He also gives us eggs from the chickens and I make him a cake with them.

Weeds: There are hundreds of varieties of weeds. If left they will thrive and can throttle the life out of other plants. Some weeds are more attractive than others. Some have very superficial roots and can be dug up easily. Some have one very long root, that needs careful handling, otherwise it breaks and will grow again. Some have tendrils that spread far and wide.

Seasons: From: Ecclesiastes Chapter 3 v: 1 

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

  1. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
  2. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
  3. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
  4. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
  5. A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
  6. A time to rend, and a time to sow; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  7. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Butterflies:  Butterflies need go go through the struggle of pushing themselves through a cocoon to give them life. It is the struggle that gives them life. Without it, they will die.

Storm damage: The voids created by nature destroys through winds, storms and fire, will fill again in time, quite naturally.

Solitude: I'm only able to write this blog, because in between a mass of Saturday household duties, I'm following the advice of William Henry Davis

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Sights and sounds: We look, but may not see. We hear, but may not listen.

Birds: I wrote this at the end of the blog on panic. 

I remember a woman I met once in a lift.  For no particular reason she said, "Aren't birds wonderful? It doesn't matter what happens 
to them in life, they always start the next day singing."

I'm sure you will be able to think of other positive and uplifting signs from nature.  As I am sure, the cynical and negative thinkers will be able to think of signs that predict 'doom and gloom'.

We have the ability to change and choose our thoughts. Perhaps not the first one, but the second, third and so on.

I look outside and could just see the mess, the mud and general bleakness. I choose not to. I look at the same scene and see hope, opportunity and beauty.


Saturday, 9 February 2013

The love of radio

The radio has been part of my life, all my life.  Living without a television would be a minor irritation at times, but living without a radio would be very difficult. It has been a constant through life. 

My earliest memories are of an old wireless on top of a refrigerator in the kitchen. I listened to 'Listen with Mother', but other programmes entered my conscious. As transistor radios came available, so the association built up with being unwell and listening to various radio programmes in bed.  Mostly light music programmes, but some spoken word. News too, boring though I found it...then.

Later came to first forays into nightime listening and pop music.  I listened to comedy programmes too, with the humour of double-entrendres going straight over my head. ('Round the Horne' is still one of the rudest and funniest comedy programmes ever made.)

The transistor radio was my companion and there are several family photos of me, the sulky teenager and a radio somewhere near my side. (Reading the sentence back, may be a clue to my attachment to radio. Who knows?) 

A birthday gift of my first, personal transistor radio brings back happy memories. The destruction of said radio does the opposite.

Some years ago, I was on a weekend course in a beautiful and peaceful part of the Yorkshire Dales. There was no mobile signal, which didn't worry me, as the place had a land line for emergencies. But I had forgotten to take a radio with me and my phone radio wouldn't work.

The radio is still a night time companion. Going to sleep on the Saturday night took time. Waking up and not having some connection with the outside world felt uncomfortable. I went to the car, drove a few miles down the dale to a spot where I could listen to the radio. I felt I was in touch with the world.

The course was on a particular therapy. My little pre-breakfast sojourn down the dale interested the tutor. On the first day I had noticed that various people were being picked out for 1:1 in front of the class and I knew my time would come. I also knew that the tutor was on the look out for something that could be tear-jerking to the participant. Emotional arousal sells.

She asked me to be the 1:1 participant that morning. I knew what she was after. In a way she was on the right track. If something means a great deal to someone, enough for them to go out of their way to find it, then there is more than likely to be an emotional bond with the behaviour. My love of radio, could be considered not dissimilar to the action of addiction.

The tutor is a highly accomplished teacher and therapist. I knew that if there was anything to uncover she would. But it must have been frustrating for her, because I didn't break down in tears, as all the others had done. She was trying to show that there was something 'wrong' in my attachment to radio, my need to know that life was going on outside the building and grounds. But all I felt was joy and contentment, not distress. So no painful memories for her to pick at.

This morning I started with a news programme on waking. A dip into the teenage memory bank on the car radio, when an old 60s song was played. Then back at home, a memory of a wonderful TV programme, when the famous piece of classical music that was used as theme music, was played on another radio station. It's not even midday yet. The variety of entertainment available now on the radio is superb.

What's triggered these musings? A new song, not yet released, but being played (hyped) on a radio station. 

The music in the morning is generally just background noise, but something made me stop and listen. It wasn't the words, the voice seemed familiar, but I felt emotional. The moment passed. I heard it again on another programme. Same effect. On the third hearing, the studio gang were mentioning how moving some of them found it. I wish I could work out why. 

It's not the words, because I didn't hear them at first. The voice reminds one of another singer, but her songs, while sad, have never bought tears to my eyes so readily. I found the track on You Tube. Nothing too exciting there, it could be a glossy car or perfume advert. 

I've attributed the reaction down to some of the musical phrasing, that is pressing a button somewhere in my emotional brain, but goodness knows what it is. I'm sure that tutor would find it!

Inevitably, the song has now become an 'ear worm', a song that is stuck in your head. I don't appear to be the only person experiencing an emotional hijack. It will be interesting to see if it becomes a big seller.

Music can be a huge mood changer. Often, we can't help the change in mood that hijacks us. Doing a weekly shop can be stressful enough, without some tune coming over the tannoy that whisks one away to a happier or more miserable time. An emotional hijack and not always a convenient one. 

I have known music trigger episodes of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). If a piece of music was playing at the time of a traumatic event in someone's life, then any reminder of it, could trigger the brain to go in to 'fight or flight'.

We can't help the first thought, but we can change the second. I know exactly how to make a painful memory more painful. Wallow in it, play the music again and again, feel desperate. "If you pick it, it won't get better."

I also know how to brighten my mood. I have any amount of music that can do that. (Yes, I do have all my old 45s and LPs.)  Funny though, how powerful the wish to wallow in the misery can be, as if we deserve to punish ourselves. 

As I'm writing this, a striking thought comes to mind. My son has always loved radio too. He works for a major radio station, a music radio station. I wonder where the seeds for that were sown?

Meanwhile, in case you're interested, here's the link to the song I'm writing about:


Saturday, 2 February 2013

Why change?

When I was studying for my psychotherapy diploma, there was a sizable manual to accompany the course. Towards the back, there was a section that took up one third of the page. It was titled ‘Secondary Gain’. It was a topic for discussion towards the end of the course and didn’t take too long to cover.

Fifteen years later, there is a consensus of opinion amongst many colleagues, that 'Secondary Gain' has been the largest contributor to clients not succeeding in solving their problems in a totally satisfactory manner. I feel that much more should have been made of its consequences in therapeutic practice.

“I won’t”. Often a statement accompanied by a childish sulk or tantrum. Certainly some physical behaviour can be observed. Personally, I have see the bottom lip pushed out on numerous occasions.

On the other hand, refusing to do something, in an adult way can be a good thing. Perhaps something suggested by someone else that isn't really a good idea?  The peer pressure felt by young people to do something that perhaps they are not comfortable with, should be encouraged. As I write, at the beginning of 2013, there is much publicity about the pressure young girls are experiencing, to take part in ‘sexting’. Sending texts of themselves in a sexual pose or sexual act to a boy or man. An unhealthy way to feel needed, accepted and thought ‘good enough'. 

I'm sure we've all felt that sort of peer pressure with regard to whatever was the 'in thing' at the time. 

This particular blog is about someone who acknowledges that there is a problem to be solved, but isn’t willing to give up a behaviour that they have developed, as part of the solution. "I won't"

At the top of the secondary gain list is financial gain. It’s tempting. Why change, if it may mean a financial loss in some way? The top of the financial gain list? A tie, between Welfare Benefits and insurance claims.

Therapists can take on insurance cases. In the end, I refused to, for ethical reasons. I advertised as a short-term brief therapist. That meant that I usually saw people for between two-six appointments. After a time, I realised that the secondary gain of having an insurance claim, meant that the motivation to get better and not have the problem arising from the accident, was missing. I could have carried on, but as satisfaction in my work came from helping people change their lives, I found the work a struggle.

I have to admit that when I did work on some insurance cases, I wasn’t always enamoured with some of the companies and legal practices that I came in contact with. There was a gain for them too, in having their client stay unwell. 

I become frustrated when I read about cases of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is a severe condition, but is treatable. Though not everyone wants to lose the label, as it can attract 'secondary gains'. 

A friend was involved with a large compensation case as the claimant. After a period of time, a large award was made. She won her case.  She walked out of court as a women, who could have been considered wealthy. She was physically injured and severely traumatised. She could live off her award and the benefits she was entitled to. Was she a happy woman? No, she certainly was not. 

To win her case, the lawyers had to show that my friend was incapable of ordinary day-to-day living. The emphasis was on everything she’d lost. Everything she couldn’t do. Everything she could never have. 

She returned home a sad and broken women. Yes, she had money in the bank, but what good was it? She felt worthless.

It took a few years for to turn her life around and she has developed a passionate dislike of the term 'Benefits'.  Her view is that they 'benefit' a few and encourage a ‘won’t do/can't do’ society. This is not political, it's based on experience.

Certainly, claiming benefits is the other area of financial gain that I have observed in holding people back from making some beneficial changes in their lives.

It’s the same for illnesses and chronic conditions. I’m sure you will know people who have experienced similar chronic conditions. They may have similar backgrounds and living conditions. One person will be working, holding down a job, keeping a career going and running a home and social life. For the other person, the chronic condition becomes their very existence, their reason to be. Attempting to minimise the discomfort and problems that the condition presents are an anathema to them. They won’t. 

The gains for them may be financial, but there will also be another gain.

Getting attention: If the problem being presented succeeds in getting people’s attention, then why change it?  We have a genuine need to give and receive attention. If sulking and tantrums succeed in giving a person what they want, then they are likely to carry on. The same can happen with illnesses.

“Will my dad still love me, if I become well?” Said by a young woman, who knew she was creating health problems, where they may not have existed. But she had become genuinely unwell as a little girl. At the same time, her younger sibling was born. She knew what she was doing and acknowledged it. She decided to grow up and became a healthy young woman.

Phobias: They are genuine and a phobic reaction can be most unpleasant and frightening. They can be cured. Avoidance tactics will have been developed over the years to manage them. The thought of having to do daily tasks such as the shopping, a social activity, childcare or family visiting, can seem not worth giving up the phobia for.

Keeping hold of old belief systems:  "because I never have..."  "because I can’t/won't...”  As children we can make some dogmatic statements.

My personal favourite ones were, “I will never eat tomatoes.” “ I will never wear a skirt over my knees again.” How limited my life would have been, had I kept those two beliefs.

We can hold on to childhood beliefs, because we’ve never had to challenge ourselves to change. Mind you, I am still dogmatic about one thing, many decades later. “I will never drink tea.” Horrible stuff...and I have tried, I promise you.

We can change. From childhood, we’ve changed our age, our physical appearance, our intellectual capacity. We may have changed families, friends, location, jobs and hobbies. 

We can change our behaviour. We can change our attitude.
I have already written about that.