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2014

31 Dec

I feel as if 2014 has brought me full circle in a number of ways:

This time last year I was a tiny bit pregnant and desperately anxious that I would lose that little life.

I didn’t.

I am very happy to write Elsie Anne Brown arrived on the 14th of August, on what was probably the most traumatic, but ultimately, brilliant day of my life.

A year later, here she is:

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Which brings me on to the other thing that 2014 has done for me. It’s made me a mother. I’m still getting my head around what that means exactly but, I know that I have changed. A lot. In ways I didn’t imagine.

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Also, perhaps unfortunately, I turned 30 this year. Having this coincide with pregnancy really nailed home the feeling that I’ve moved onto my next life stage. I was ready to make that transition but it was, it is, still a transition. I’ve still had to let go of ideas about, and aspects of, myself.

I’ve replaced drinking and smoking with baby wearing and cloth nappies. Report writing with breast feeding and thinking with gazing at my baby.

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I totally love it!

Thank you for reading whoever and wherever you are. I hope 2015 is a good-un for us all.

Bright blessings xx

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Going ‘Off Plan’

20 Apr

It’s been a stressy week. I have not managed to take time back.

I have worked overtime, over time that I won’t be paid for and probably won’t manage to claim back.

I figure that I need to start giving clients a set number of hours per week and sticking to it! I have been pulled into various meetings about clients and have still felt it was important to go and see them, write their notes and analyse data about them. This just isn’t feasible! (unless I can get my caseload down to two!).

Anyway, yesterday (Friday) I was driving around Thanet between a session with a client and a case conference about a different client. I realised I had a hour to spare; not enough time to get back to the office; too much time to go straight there.

I realised I was driving through broadstairs and it occured to me that I could take a lunch-break yes a friging lunch break. I had heard that Broadstairs is nice, and I suddenly felt like I might have the opportunity to do something totally unpredictable to even myself.

I felt as I were being somewhat reckless as I parked my car on the high street and walked down the hill towards where I imagined the sea might be. To think that no one in the world knew where I was or what I was doing, nor could they guess felt alien and exciting to me.

I felt as if I might have managed to go off plan; to have demonstrated my own free will and independence of thought.

I walked down the road and identified that Broadstairs was indeed, middle class, with an old-fashioned bakery, haberdashery and butcher on the high street. A funeral parlour with the tag line “today is a good day to plan your funeral” gave me an idea of the demographics of the town, yet strangely, the only young people I could see were teenagers. Not British teenagers, but French, in fact, the only language I could hear being spoken was French. I wondered if I might have accidentally entered into a rift in the space-time continuum, or maybe just, absent mindedly driven through the eurotunnel into France.

As it began to rain I realised I was indeed in Britain, and like a true Brit, carried in regardless down to the beach.

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I walked along the pavement by the beach huts and identified a picnic bench to venture across the sand for. Wearing a full length woollen coat and my red-leather work shoes I suspected that should anyone have noticed me they might have thought me rather odd. Indeed, in my psychologist outfit, I felt more removed that usual from nature and less able to be connected with the outdoors. I fantasised about taking my shoes off and running across the beach to paddle in the icy sea. I noticed this urge and reflected that, had I have not been in psychologist mode I probably would have gone with it. I comforted my self with my flask of coffee and a cigarette.

I was aware of this chap sitting in the bench next to mine:

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I’m not a fan of seagulls but he stayed put, looking at me and talking to the other seagulls. He reminded me of a dog, or rather dogs when they whine at each other. On making this association, I paid him some more attention. He seemed wise and grounded. I wondered if he had an understanding of the universe and realised that, on a level, he did. Not a cognitive level, but on a practical, behavioural level, and perhaps, an emotional level. Looking at him made me feel as if he had a sense of mastery over his world, a complete understanding of all he perceives, or at least the feeling of understanding of all he perceives.

I reasoned that I had a fairly good, practical understanding of the universe and my place in it, but there is no way I will ever have an understanding of it all on a cognitive level. Even if i had infinite mental capacity to understand all the knowledge in the world, the facts are still unknown. I wondered if I could ever understand it all on an emotional level and fairly quickly dismissed that as too time and energy consuming.

I wondered, however, whether I am missing a level or two?

I started to get cold and wet and retreated to my car, dissatisfied with my attempt to be reckless but satisfied that I had achieved some thinking space of my own.

I felt a sense of achievement as I arrived at my next meeting with wet hair and sand in my shoes.

Also, at the meeting I apologetically informed my colleagues that I would not be present the week after next for two consecutive weeks. They surprised me by seeming genuinely pleased for
me to be getting a holiday. I walked away realising that I had fallen into a trap of thinking my presence is more important than it actually is.

I drove home after the meeting feeling a little bit free…

Learning from Containment

6 Jan

About a year ago I had a valuable life experience. The problem was: I didn’t really want a valuable life experience! I was too busy trying to get through to appreciate new learning possibilities. This post will describe just one of the many lessons I learned from this experience. For obvious reasons It has taken me a long time to get round to writing it but I hope it will make some of the others easier to write.

Background

During my training I had some opportunity to chose my clinical placements. I expressed an interest in working with people with life threatening or terminal illnesses. We had received some excellent teaching on working in the area and I felt that I could make a real difference to people at an incredibly difficult time in their lives.

As my year long placement in Learning Disability Services drew to an end I received notification that I was to be placed in a General Hospital’s Oncology Service.

My previous supervisor expressed concern that, without a spiritual framework for understanding existential issues I would find working in this area incredibly difficult. I was aware of her own spiritual framework and it’s importance to her, but was somewhat dismissive of it’s applicability to myself.

The Experience

Arriving on placement I spent some time sitting in on sessions with my new supervisor. I realised quite soon that, in order to cope with my recent dog-bereavement and the demands of a doctoral course, I had shut off all of my emotional self. This had not been a serious problem when advising care teams on how best to prevent and respond to ‘challenging’ behaviour. I saw, however, that in a 1:1 therapeutic situation, much empathy was required.

In order to provide containment for people in a state of emotional desperation and existential crisis you have to allow yourself to feel, at least a little, of what they are feeling. Or, at the very least, acknowledge that it is possible for you to feel it. If you are terrified of what someone else is feeling, you can not effectively communicate that their emotions are acceptable, manageable and containable.

I spent my first supervision session in tears. I explained that I had realised I would have to allow myself to feel sad in order to connect with the emotional lives of my clients and that I didn’t really want to feel sad. My supervisor was familiar with this experience, from both her clients and (I interpreted) her own experience. She taught me about Mindfulness and about Compassion Focused Therapy, she suggested I use these techniques both on myself and with my clients.

I felt I was managing quite well, until a month into the placement, I had my own Cancer scare. Fortunately, this has been resolved without further issue. Unfortunately, I was unaware of what the outcome would be until sometime later in my placement. While I wouldn’t usually have shared this news with a supervisor I felt I had no choice.

I expected my supervisor to give me a way out of the placement, to agree that it was just too hard and that I probably couldn’t cope. Looking back I believe I also suspected she would find my emotions unbearable.

Funnily enough, my supervisor offered me containment. She was empathic but boundaried. She understood I was having a hard time but didn’t think I should give up. She thought my emotions were difficult but not unmanageable. She offered me tissues and a chocolate, but didn’t send me home.

The Lesson(s)

I learned that

  • Even at their extremes, my emotions are bearable.
  • If I stop pushing my emotions away, they stop being so scary.
  • The human body can only sustain an extreme emotional state for a short period of time. Yes, that emotion will probably come back, but you have already learned about your ability to cope with it and that your world will not end through allowing yourself to feel it.
  • Judging my emotional experience is not particularly helpful.
  • Noticing, acknowledging and accepting my emotional world makes it feel more manageable.

As a result of these lessons I was able to sit with clients who filled the room with their sadness and desperation. Clients who felt unable to show those emotions to their families for fear of hurting and losing them.

I hope that, in doing so, I was able to teach them that their emotions were acceptable, manageable and containable.