All Over the Place

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I finally broke my long streak of over 200 days of daily meditation using Calm. That was actually at the end of March and I’ve been struggling to get back into it and I lost my daily Pilates at the same time.

I’ve also been struggling with writing essays for this marvellous counselling course which I am enjoying less and less and has led to my writing here less. On the other hand I’m starting to see past it, to a time when I am qualified, and holding on to that.

The first essay was advanced counselling skills, where a 50 minute recording of a skills practice session done at class is then minutely analysed in terms of demonstrating exciting skills such as reflection, paraphrases, use of immediacy etc. It’s a really tedious thing to write and most of us had to tweak it after submission in order to get it passed. There is very little joy or sense of achievement.

The second essay was on counselling theory, which was a lot more interesting except that we’ve done both these essays last year, at certificate level so there is a sense of repetition although this is supposed to be at a deeper level. This essay passed first time which gave me a massive boost as I wasn’t expecting it and I really feel quite proud. There is one whole paragraph in the entire essay that I’m actually pleased with.

We are now on our third essay, which is on diversity and power, topics which are interesting and require good examination and a richness of material to write about. However shoehorning the material to fit the essay criteria is not a joy and my mind keeps wandering off down interesting paths which doesn’t get the essay written. Plus I want to write about the aspects that interest me, not that tick the boxes. Hence writing this rather than the essay. An increased desire for focus is sending me back to my #DailyCalm which is a win.

The criteria for all these essays are pedantic and seem calculated to such any joy out of the material and it feels like being back in school. Joys of discovery and immersion in interesting side trips are not relevant to passing the test. Although our teacher is lovely and will get us through, she does teach to the test and an occasional desire for greater experiential work keeps bubbling up.

At the same time as essay #3 we also have our research project for next year to consider. This is a small piece of containable research that we have to manage. We need to be roughly aware of what we’re doing before the summer so we can do a literature review over the holidays. No days off for us students.

We haven’t unified as a group, remaining in small subsets some of whom go out socialising without others and that too feels very much like school. I genuinely like and get on with 3 people, genuinely like but haven’t really made friends with another 3, like but don’t talk much to 4, rarely exchange words with and am not interested in maybe 3, and actively clash with 1. There are quite a few who visibly stop from more than minimal self-disclosure in a way that makes it very difficult to work with. Then of course their self-disclosure increases my reluctance to speak out and we all end up with plenty of barriers.

So that’s the moan and the vent.

On the other hand I have started my placement at long last. This is a huge relief but also terrifying to feel that I have a hand in someone’s life. Real world clients are just so much more real than working with peers. It’s like moving into colour from black and white and being almost overwhelmed with the increased input. I’m starting off slowly with two clients but will bump that up before long.

I have also recently successfully celebrated my 50th birthday. I struggle with birthdays and found my 40th very difficult to get my head around, ending up going into London for a meal with friends which seemed tame at the time but that was all I could manage. This was more of a last minute plan. We did have a meal with friends at my local pub on the day but this time my children all came, being more civilised than they were ten years ago and as a family we filled up a week with extravagant silliness together in various combinations. I feel that I have paid my birthday as much attention as it/I deserve.

Life is otherwise good. I have a few clouds to sort out which I’m not letting get to me and there always will be some dark clouds but I’m trying to keep them small. Children are doing their thing and not really needing concern so I just need to get back to writing that essay that gets less appealing every time I look at it.

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Are My Parents Racist?*

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  • My parents happily vanished next door to the Pakistani family when they were infrequently invited to enjoy a good meal and for the neighbours to show how modern they were by letting my mother sit with the menfolk with tumblers full of whisky she felt duty bound to drink. They never came to our house. I recall no real interaction other than these meals.
  • When my sister brought back a boyfriend from university, who happened to be Asian, I overheard them wondering what colour the babies might be. And no, she wasn’t pregnant. This is the only time I can pinpoint a memory of a person walking through our front door who isn’t white.
  • We spent a few days with German friends in Germany. After we returned home my parents sat at the dinner table making stupid German jokes (about keep things in order, that sort of thing). It was one of the very few times I felt able to stand up to them and say that given the nice time we had how utterly insulting this mockery was and I actually said that if they couldn’t behave themselves I would go and eat elsewhere. They subsided into shocked silence. I probably managed it because it wasn’t about me.
  • My parents think all Americans are uncultured. Nothing good has come out of the USA. This despite my father’s favourite novelist being Raymond Chandler, as American as apple pie and my mother enjoying a long list of Hollywood films. I might agree with them on the cultural value of McDonald or Coca-Cola but they do not fully represent America.
  • They have always valued and prized the Middle East and were fortunate enough to visit Syria before it fell apart. They admire the history, the science, the intellect, the architecture and art. They enjoyed the holidays they have taken but did not notice the “now”; they could not tell me anything about the man on the street, let alone the women.
  • They like certain groups of foreign people because they have great food and nice restaurants. Whether they like them beyond that I am not sure.

I should add that my father has visited more countries in his life than not so he has been exposed to different cultures the world over, although maybe (probably) with a lack of engagement with the ordinary person.

It was not until I started listing these few memories out that I realised that my parents, as far as I can remember, have never discussed black people. Certainly not as friends, nor as part of a history of colonialism and absolutely not as people with their own history and culture. Africa interests them not at all, except for the Mediterranean part. My mother did once point out to me that my grandmother had lived in South Africa for a while and that is why she took such an interest in the plight of black South Africans, as if no other reason was possible.

The world seems to divide up into the interesting bits: Europe, with Italy and the Med the favourites, continental Africa and the Middle East as good, and the rest full of uncultured people (Americans and Australians and no doubt other countries not beginning with A) or some sort of blank, not worthy of consideration.

My son suggested that they were generationally racist, in that they aren’t really racist, they simply talk that way, in the way their generation do. I do not think this is true. I think my father is hugely an intellectual snob which he interprets in a racist manner.

* <tl;dr> of course they are – they’re white, as are my entire family, so we are all racist, whether we admit it or not.

I have always tried not to be overtly racist, in words and deeds. I am currently trying to grow my awareness of institutional racism, not as something that merely belongs to organisations but that is embedded in all aspects of this country, from who runs it down to personal white privilege. In this sense a country is a giant institution and granting easier access and progress to whites is built in to every aspect. I have not had to give this much thought in my life, which is itself a privilege.

Today I got out of my car in my road and was greeted by name by my local police officer, out on patrol. We had a nice generic chat about the neighbourhood and what was going on and she pedalled off. I didn’t worry what questions she would ask me, whether she would want to frisk me, search my car or ask me anything too personal. I felt not one jot of anxiety. I was aware, during this perfectly innocuous conversation that it would probably have been different had I been black. I would probably not have known her. She would probably not have known my name. I wouldn’t have already interacted with my local police from the point of view of a community organiser. I would of course hope that this particular officer wouldn’t treat a black person differently. But I have that hope because I am white.

 

Procrastination

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Procrastination was the title of today’s #DailyCalm and it was very apt timing too. Over the last couple of weeks of Easter holiday I have had fun with my children and done minimal amounts of everything else.

I have started my second essay and recoiled in horror from it. I have got an application form for a placement and recoiled in horror from completing the long questions. I have sort of got a placement but I need to check the details and I don’t think it will be enough of its own. I haven’t done enough paying work and I have a list of small jobs that just gets longer as I put it all off. I have mostly binned Pilates and meditation for the fortnight as well, which is self-sabotage as my ability to focus and to be without pain is diminishing every day.

So here I am, Tuesday morning, trying to get back to normal and feeling overwhelmed by the big stuff I need to do, let alone all the minor ones. On top of that it’s my 50th birthday soon and I have done nothing about deciding what to do as it’s too big a decision. Time is ticking and I don’t want to let it slide away. My birthday is also being celebrated with an invitation to my first mammogram. Who knew birthdays could bring such excitement!

Starting back into meditation a topic of procrastination was really pertinent and it made me think, which is always useful. I know that part of the reason I get so anxious about thinking about coursework is that it is part of a future that I am self-determining. Other than the decision to have children this is pretty much the biggest thing that I have decided to do that is not about compromise or complying with others or fitting in, but it’s for me. On top of that it is also a future job and career, income, independence and all sorts that I haven’t really had. It’s a bigger deal than just doing the coursework and getting a placement.

I have been thinking over the last few months about resilience and how I need to build up my ability to not want to shut down in face of outside pressure like this, whether it’s a pressure that I have chosen or not. It suddenly struck me during my meditation that I have spent most of my life enduring and that I need to untangle that from resilience. My default mode when put under pressure, by my father or partners for the most, is to make myself small and quiet, and wait for it all to be over. I endured it. I wasn’t resilient. Now I am trying to be resilient and I am defaulting to passive endurance which does not get essays written.

endurance: the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.

resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

The difference is small but significant. I am not fast at recovering, at bouncing back and I have spent most of a lifetime not giving more of myself than I can afford to lose. I gave way slowly where I had to and dug my heels in elsewhere. This needs to change.

Almost Too Much

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Some days we are strong enough to fight. Some days we are not.
Thanks to chibird.com

Having done my back in I’ve spent a week in recovery, doing virtually no work and it has provided me with an opportunity to reflect.

I feel as if life is almost too much to cope with. Not in a depressed suicidal sense but that I feel overwhelmed by all the pressures on me.

I need to sort out my placement, get on with corrections to the first essay and start on the second. Those are the absolute must dos for my course. Thinking about the third essay, research project etc. are also there.

I have financial pressures too: my income has gone down drastically in the last year and it is increasingly difficult to cope. Any major expenditure and I will really struggle. I need to get on with my year end to hopefully help change that. I haven’t challenged my recent housing benefits decisions because I really can’t cope with another argument. The outstanding supposed debt is still there sitting quietly. I might think about another job but I can’t until I have my placement.

These are the two major pressures on me. There are lots of other lesser ones that all add to the pile.

I have this week been spending at least an hour on physio / Pilates for my back. There has been no time pressure as I knew I was incapable of sitting down in front of a computer let alone putting coherent thought together. There was therefore an immense release of pressure. In a bizarre way, despite being in pain I actually slept more deeply when I was asleep.

So I want to spend more time looking after myself, in the sense of doing more Pilates, more meditation, more getting out of the house and going for a stroll. But I don’t feel I can because there is always something else I should be doing. I am really fed up of that pressure. I am simply so tired of life.

Change is good and no doubt some of this is fear over making a huge change to my life. By doing this course I am equipping myself to have a profession, a career, potentially financial fully independence. I am doing this because I want to see these changes and they are all positive. But it is also scary.

There is a part of me that wishes to go down the mental health route, declare myself unfit for work and just stop. But that’s not a realistic option and would drive me into lower mental health. But still I want to run away.

I don’t know what the solution is, other than to keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope that, given a bit more sunshine and light, I feel more capable. I just feel that one more push and I will fall.

Heritage and Belonging

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heritage:  Property that is or may be inherited; an inheritance.

tradition:  The transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

culture:  The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society;  The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

religion:  The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods


all en.oxforddictionaries.com

We had an interesting but too short discussion about what the above four meant. They overlap and intertwine and it is impossible to separate them out completely. They are very much entangled balls of twine. But then came the question of what is *my* heritage and I got stuck.

My previous speaker started it previously by saying “I want to belong to where I am now”. He’s right and that prompted me to think about letting go of wanting to have belonged to somewhere in the past, whether it’s parents or what they represent. My parents didn’t present the unity of a family as an entity to which we all belonged but presented as a division so there was no foundation there either. This is one of the reasons I cling on to Yorkshire as a belonging as that was a constant throughout my life.

Other than my grandmother’s parents dumping her I have no awareness of generations before my grandparents, I have no awareness of them having passed down anything. No values, no cultural traditions, best practices, family stories, no possessions, not a stick of furniture or precious piece of silverware. Nada.

So do I have any heritage beyond my grandparents? No I don’t, and that’s another reason I cling to both their homes as a stable source of roots, as places to where I belong even though I never lived there.

That also means no traditions passed on. All of them are about what we grew up with as children, the family jokes, the car songs, the holidays.

Culture came from my mother and grandmother. Films and theatre, G&S. A love of books came from both parents but it was my grandmother who introduced me to my most influential author and most of my reading favourites come from me. A few come from my parents but bugger all really. A couple from my dad, who thinks Shakespeare a nonsense and Raymond Chandler the best ever. My parents had minimal musical awareness; my mother’s mother was the one with her 78s and our evenings when I would play through the stack.

I rejected religion. I don’t much remember my parents making any suggestions one way or another. I had my book of bible stories which I still keep. 2sis wanted to be a  vicar as an adult and embraced Christianity as a teenager. 1sis dabbled with all sorts of thing, with Buddhism lasting the longest but none of it really stuck. I never belonged to a large group of people. I might have done with the various drama groups but they were basically for adults and there was none for young people. I had a go at Brownies but never really fitted in. Was that why when I discovered the theatre at school it spoke to me, because it was a place I could belong, and fit in with all the other misfits?

I said jokingly at half term that the reason I had children, however slow a procedure it was, was to provide me with playmates. We were playing a board game at the time and being as silly as we could be. It is true though. I didn’t feel that I particularly belonged to my family as a child and much of the reason I had children was to have a family I belonged to. That worked out well.

I belong to the now, because I belong to my family and my local area. I do not belong to the past.

Part of my understanding for the need of connections and my drive to make friends and acquaintances is watching my parents move or not move, but either way have very few friends and very little connection to the real world and to people in it. I do not want to be isolated. I understand my father’s  desire to build himself a wall to protect his emotions from the rest of the world but I utterly reject it. We are humans and that requires connectivity if we’re to have a full life.

This is why the recording with new speaker (for my placement) got to me, because he decided to embrace it. I asked him what belonging meant for him and I need to answer the same question.

Falling in Friendship

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Reading through my father’s memoirs again, one thing that really leaps out is how uncertain he was of his place in the world. He talks of finishing his degree at Oxford and not being really sure of the value of an Oxford education and the privilege that was part of it. He talks of thinking about careers and how money would help some of them to the extent of excluding him. He had friends who went on to do “great” things but he never did. He stood in the sidelines and might have had an important role more than once but it was always in the shadow, never in the light. The one time he tried to stand in the limelight,when he stood as a prospective parliamentary candidate, it didn’t work.

Money has given him a sense of security and he’s found it easier to belong to a country not his own than he does his native country. He has always felt that he doesn’t belong. He got told in his forties to get a proper suit before going for his formal interview. The one he felt comfortable was not appropriate for the role he was going to and he needed a pinstripe which is so not him. He has worked with powerful people his entire life but never been a recognised name himself. None of this self-doubt ever went away and I wonder how much of this insecurity he unwittingly passed on to us.

My father would say now that he knows exactly who he is and what he wants and that he’s living his dream, well until he returned to London he would have. My parents live in their own bubble, one that excluded most of the world which is why it was perfect.

Some of the anger I have over labels is that sense of not belonging. Whether it is connected to the amount of times I had to wave my passport at customs as a child, back in the good/bad old days (delete according to your politics) when that was a regular thing in Europe I don’t know. My parents were also totally wrapped up in the divided identities as Yorkshire v Kent, North v South, softie v tough. We had to choose where we belonged and we couldn’t belong to both.

Belonging was something that had to be earned and I never did. Not until I moved here, to my home of the last 17 years, did I feel I belong. Even now though I walk into my local pub and think that I don’t belong quite as much as someone who has been going there for 40 years or who goes 5 times a week while I merely turn up once or twice.

I will always, probably, doubt my ability to belong. It’s one of the reasons I still don’t speak half the stuff going through my mind on the course, because people may not want to hear it, may be bored, may disagree with me. I may not express my thoughts or feelings clearly and be misunderstood. I may upset someone. My default defence mechanism has always been to shut up and hide and I struggle to reverse that and speak out.

I also realise that while I knew all my closest friends are mavericks, independent individuals they are also honest and open. Forthright if necessary and blunt to the point of rudeness which may on occasion go over the top. But for all that they are complete individuals and totally different they all share that openness and willingness to communicate. My children are all honest and transparent for the most part. Sometimes I wish they weren’t but I’d much rather not like what is going through their heads than wonder what is.

I may never come out of my shell and own up to being me and not some preconceived or pre-arranged (tidied?) version of me, not in groups anyway. There are times when I feel I belong to another plant, such is my lack of identifying with other people’s experience.

But my list of friends with whom I can be as real as I want is getting longer and deeper. I am fortunate indeed to count them as friends and it really is up to me to keep those friendships going.

Tonight I am grateful for those people in my life who I am fortunate to love, truely, madly and deeply. Love ya!

Diversity, labels and identification

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Labels are for jars not people
ActiveMinds

I came to a grinding halt when asked to list not just the ways in which people are divided (on race, faith, gender etc.) but to list all the groups of each category. This is what I worked through afterwards.

Not everyone gets included. If I label, or list all the groups of a category of people, such as faith, I can’t include everyone as there are faiths I haven’t heard of. Those people are excluded from the category unless I include a group called “and others” which at least indicates I haven’t included everyone but lumps minority groups together in a way that doesn’t value them . The others are the people who get forgotten.

Who creates the labels? Do people with a BAME or LGBTIQ label self identify as such? These two labels in particular are very much imposed from outside. I’m not sure whether one would label it white privilege but it is certainly a bureaucracy that imposes it and that bureaucracy tends to be white. On returning from an LGBT conference a friend commented that she had learned to call people whatever they wanted to be called, rattling off a dozen names.

Sometimes the labels are wrong. White-British is not an ethnicity. Whilst I will call myself white and own that as a label, British is a nationality not an ethnicity and shouldn’t be there. Moreover I self-identify as English, not British, and that’s not even an option. So I feel excluded every time I tick a box that isn’t me.

What is done with the data? Listing out labels always takes me straight to monitoring forms. This data may be used to show that a small charity is reaching the “hard to reach” communities but it may be used for other purposes. The official classification of faiths includes humanism as a faith, so cumulatively the number of humanists is being used to increase the number of people with religious beliefs, as opposed to people who do not believe in a deity. That is misuse of the data.

Who decides your labels? I was told last year by a work colleague that I was a Londoner, and couldn’t class myself as Yorkshire as I’d lived in London too long and didn’t have an accent. Neither of which has anything to do with how I self-identify. He had decided.

Labels require sub-labels. Christianity should be divided into Roman Catholic, Protestants and whatever else there is. Not to mention Anglican or not, the evangelicals and the weird small cults that don’t fit into any broader umbrella. Where do you stop?

What good is the label? If my room for rent advert says “No dogs, no Blacks, no Irish” then the intention is pretty clear. What are we doing with the label to justify its existence? Do we just assume a generic stereotype along with the label? Who benefits?

Is it white privilege to ignore the label? If I choose not to disclose my ethnic origin, or to put myself down as human, the odds are that I am not skewing the statistics much because I’m mostly in the majority. But if you are in a minority, let alone a small minority, that refusal may make a difference to the results and who knows what that means.

None of this means we don’t have to talk about diversity, or that it’s not important. We need to name race, nationality, gender, faith etc. as categories that divide us and we need to be increasingly aware of how they do so and challenge that division and discrimination, whether it’s on a personal or systemic basis. We need to challenge our own prejudices as well as other people’s. Positive discrimination is needed to help restore the balance.

But, we have to be aware of all the side effects of labels and the emotions they generate. This hasn’t really dealt with the anger that has come up for me but I still need to work it through.

Feeling More Positive

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I’m sitting here, waiting for my tutorial and my skills practice recording and feeling comfortably fine and am surprised with myself. As we went over the rules last week I so just wanted to get it over and done with and I still do.

This week has been a mess but it’s all been good.

I went for my first session as part of the evaluation procedure for a counselling placement and felt hugely relieved from it. It’s not going to be easy but it’s manageable. There are nine of us and we would be ending up working together so it’s basically a lot of normal group work and triads with observers who will determine whether we are satisfactory or not. It’s bizarre but I feel better able to cope.

I’ve also got an appointment for an “informal chat” with a second place and a third one to nudge so I’m feeling better about getting on with it although it all seems a bit of a massive mountain to climb.

I’ve done a bit more work on my assignment and am feeling better in some way about the impending deadline a month away as I will no longer have time to dither but will have to just get on with it. After this slow start the essays then come running in thick and fast so I can only hope that this wobble is on its way out.

I am very aware that all of this comes from a position of not liking being assessed and evaluated and validated and it’s all my father’s voice. My therapist said that I need to get better at telling his voice (at least) to fuck off. I raised my voice to him yesterday and told him he was being crass and he didn’t like that at all. I did hang up and feel both simultaneously proud and guilty but I will work on the guilt.

What the last few months have shown me is that I need to work on myself, to continue pushing on all fronts. Meditation and Pilates are now core (if you’ll pardon the pun) and working on sleep has been really valuable. Looking up mid afternoon slump has made me really think more about what I eat during the day and that has made a difference. Last night I was expecting broken sleep as part of anxiety over today and instead I slept straight through for six hours which is wonderful. That in itself shows how far I have come since my skills recording last year. But I still ned to push myself on minimising TV, increasing reading, whether course books or for entertainment, spending less time doing crap, more time outside, blah blah blah. The trouble with self-improvement is that one never gets there.

That all has to be balanced with the need to slow down, be more mindful and try and live in the here and now without always looking ahead and worrying about what else needs to be done, something I excel at. It’s all about balance. I do need an afternoon or evening meditation to help me calm all this down and to work a bit more on anxiety. So much to do, and so much about being rather than doing.

Overall though, I’m in a better place. Now for skills recordings.

Prevarication Before Anxiety

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I was going to get up and continue with my first essay. I have put an hour into it so far and have been unable to face it again. I have done many other things this morning, none of them vital or urgent but I cannot face starting on the essay.

My mind freezes up and I can hear panic settling in. We are making the recording soon, after which I only have a few weeks to do the essay. The idea was to do the half of the essay which can be done before the skills recording. I haven’t managed that.

I have the possibility of a placement but it requires an assessment weekend and training days after that. I could be pleased but instead I’m considering how much time that is going to take away from me not doing my essay time.

Money is preying on me too. I ought to get back in touch with Benefits and pick up the argument where I left it but I cannot face it. Money worries me at the moment but I cannot do anything about extra work until the placement is sorted.

What I can do is worry. Worry about my ability to write essays which will come thick and fast between now and the end of the academic year. I am worrying about my placement, whether I apply for me or rely on this. I am worried about time, about sleep, about mid-afternoon slumping.

And then I worry about worrying too much. I can only let go of worrying when I busy my mind doing something nice and relaxing that isn’t really relevant. That in itself can encourage me to get out of the house for a walk which is nice and beneficial but I don’t come home and start on my essay.

What I need to do is have a bash at my essay, do some more meditation, especially with a focus on anxiety, and go for a walk when the sun shines (which it is now) and just stop doing everything but. My stomach might then settle.