Commitment, Am I afraid of it?


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quotefancy-9662-planWhat have I committed to; what is there that I have said I want this and am willing to spend years getting there?

I said yes to the theatre. I gave it my heart and theatre college broke it.

I committed to children.

I committed to marriage and that didn’t work out.

I committed to gaining a degree but I did it part time so that it could fit in with real life and it took me ten years to gain in total. I did get married and divorced and have at least two children during my studies.

I also got a CiW qualification in Web Design and whatever that I never used. It took me under a year and cost about £1000.

So when I say that I don’t like any career or profession so much that I want to spend the full time learning how to do it, is that because I don’t like anything that much or because I’m too scared to make the commitment?

Let’s look at counselling, seriously.

I am doing an Introduction to Counselling, which is 30 hours over ten sessions, less than a term (around £250). It is followed by a Certificate in Counselling Skills which is 1/2 day for a year (£1,500). Lastly comes a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling which is 1 day for 2 years (£4,000, but eligible for Student Loan as is the Certificate).

So firstly, I could go for the next level without having to do the full diploma and I could walk away at that point with a qualification so it’s not like walking out halfway through.

I do not yet know whether I really am capable of being a counsellor but the qualification is not going to do me any harm. Yes it’s expensive but compared to a degree it’s dirt cheap and I can get a student loan that I barely have to repay.

So what’s stopping me? There’s the time and the cost. Neither of which are real factors. The time is 3 years but it’s part time. Maybe I’d give up some voluntary stuff but I could do that if I really wanted to.

So what is it? I’ve stopped at this point to go and find the careers service site. And it comes to me. Other than I was young and wanted the theatre, I have never sat down and thought about what I want, what I really really want. I have done things because they were convenient, fitted in with partners or children, or because I hadn’t learn to say no. I’ve never sat down and really tried to work out what I want. Thinking of leaving London is part of that decision. Deciding how I wish to earn my living is another. So back to that careers site.


P.S. I never thought I’d be quoting Emma Watson.


Introduction to Counselling, second


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empathy-four-elements_quotesgramdotcomCarl Rogers developed person-centred therapy out of a need to develop therapy that worked for the returnees from the Korean war. He discovered that the type of therapy provided was less important than the qualities of the therapist.

He found that, for therapy to work you needed three key ingredients:

  • empathy, the ability to see things from the client’s perspective;
  • unconditional positive regard, a clunky phrase meaning that you positively accept your client for who they are without wanting to change them or judge them;
  • congruence, a word more often applied to triangles that means the therapist must be genuine, that her words, deeds, actions and body language must all present the same personality, must be congruent with one another, demonstrating by example feeling comfortable in one’s identity (or “être bien dans sa peau” as the French say, being comfortable in your skin).

He later added a fourth:

  • presence, being there for your client in such a way that there are moments of real connections, when everything clicks.

We focused on empathy. Trying to describe what that means feels like a group thesaurus session. It’s easy to say words or phrases that mean similar things but narrowing this and other words down is harder than it sounds.

Although we started saying empathy is walking in someone else’s shoes, it’s more like walking alongside them, sharing the journey but with the recognition that you can’t actually fully understand someone else’s perspective although you can understand sufficiently. Acknowledgement and understanding are key words that keep coming up.

What demonstrates empathetic listening? In a very basic fashion, just paying attention and being seen to be paying attention. Beyond that it’s how you react to their story, acknowledging what is being said, demonstrating warmth and giving them the space to say what they want to say without hurrying them along. The client might not maintain eye contact with the therapist but when they do look it’s important that the therapist is looking at them and not staring out the window looking bored.

What hinders empathy? A lack of connection, a pre-existing prejudice, impatience, parallels with your own personal stuff, the cut-off of the session end.

How does it feel to receive empathy? It feels comforting/supportive/safe that someone is listening without rejecting you or your story. Feeling safe might enable you to open up more (rather than initial self-censorship when you’re not sure); there’s a building of trust.

Writing this down makes it all sound so simplistic. Don’t I do this anyway? When we were talking about conversations not being the same as the ones with your friends when you do offer them advice and tell them what to do I was thinking, but I don’t do that. I practice these techniques in normal personal conversations.

I know this is an introduction but it all sounds so simplistic and superficial. The theory, such as it is, that we are discussing seems almost irrelevant. I feel superior to the discussion.

The practical was a lot more interesting. A five minute monologue each way, on this occasion with minimal prompts such as body language and non-verbal comments but no words. I partnered with S who I liked a lot more at the end of it. My initial reaction to her on the first week was that she was slightly too enthusiastic but actually we bonded.


Listening to someone without being able to interject produced two streams of thought in my head: the first was listening to what she said and mentally ticking off shared or overlapping experiences that I understood or could relate to; the second was trying to list the comments and queries that I wanted to ask but couldn’t. I was too busy trying to get a grip on these steams to put together what S was saying other than as a sequence of events. I couldn’t integrate them into a picture. I wanted to touch her at one point to show sympathy, just by putting my hand on her knee sort of thing. I didn’t but it was really hard not to say something that shows sympathy. It was the emotions that were expressed that were more important than the story and facts although sometimes the facts mask the emotions. Indeed if you’re used to multiple therapist you can (as I have done) rattle off your story in a very factual way designed to convey information and ignoring the feelings.

When we swapped roles (and in fact I started speaking) I found it really difficult just to keep going for five minutes. It’s not as if I can’t talk endlessly but I found myself slightly going round in circles rather than progressing. It felt as if there wasn’t enough feedback to know in which direction to drive the conversation. Also her listening face seemed put upon, which it was as she was trying to show that she was listening without responding naturally.  I’m quite used to sitting in conversations and doing more listing than talking as I’ve often done it when feeling uncomfortable and it’s become habitual.

I was wondering about what to do next term already. I’m feeling a bit bored by the lack of depth but not sure that I want to do the full course although I could just do the next and stop. I want more in depth but I also don’t want to commit. Or am I afraid of commitment, as the time-honoured cliché goes?



A Really Hard Week


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I know it can get harder but this really pushed me to my limit. And then some. It started so well.

Last week 3son threw a wobbly at the idea of reverting to how we had been before summer came along, with all three of us on computers in the same room. I’d started it that way years ago when they were younger so that I could keep an eye on what they were doing on the computer and occasionally chat to them. Once I got over being angry with my son for being difficult I realised that actually he was right and it would be nice to not have to listen them play their computer games online and shout at all their team mates.

So we spent Sunday moving everything about and I did a fair bit of cleaning with the result that I have a lovely new office that has no space for everyone else and they have their computers upstairs where I don’t have to listen to them and all seemed well.

3son has been increasingly difficult, with the stress of exams and a lack of identity making him a troubled teenager. He hasn’t found his place in the world and is worried there isn’t one. He gets very angry and upset. He has some good friends he can talk to, but there is a lot in his head that he never lets out. He has tried counselling a few times but has never really clicked with the counsellor and has never given himself up to the process. Hence every so often it all explodes and he often goes for a long walk to calm himself down, usually late at night. It’s not ideal but it works.

This time however, he took a rope.

He told a couple of friends that he’d gone out and bought a rope and one of them was concerned enough to get in touch with 4son and the two of use looked at the screen grabs of chat between 3son and his friends and wondered whether we needed to panic or not. We decided that yes we did. Naturally 3son was refusing to answer his phone but he eventually told his friend where he was and I drove off to find him before he moved on. As I did I wondered how I’d cope if I couldn’t drive and had to rely on others for help. We ended up going for a two hour random drive as he refused to come home, saying he didn’t want to sleep at home but didn’t have any friends he could stay with that night. So we went for a rambling drive and talked about stuff.

We talked about him not being sure about what he wanted to do or how to achieve it. He doesn’t have a passion for any of his subjects and he realises he finds it hard to work well if he’s not really interested in something. He wants something to engage him and is feeling lost. I did my best to reassure and he did end up signing up for as many enrichment classes as he can in order to just try things out. But I’m not sure he’s willing to put enough energy into anything and he needs to in order to find out whether a subject or activity can really grab him.

We also spent some time talking about my childhood. I’ve always glossed over it as he was too young for me to really discuss it but I found myself driving on a road I used to live on and so we talked about my parents and growing up in London when we were all unhappy and my dad’s affair and me being unhappy at school. I think in some ways it really helped him to realise that I had been there and did know what he was talking about. I’m not just trying to be a good parent but I do empathise with him. I do remember being his age and I do remember thinking that life really and truly sucked. I told him about my half assed overdose and again that bonded us.

It was a long and exhausting evening and a week on I still don’t feel I have recovered. 3son is going around as if nothing has happened which really makes 4son angry. 4son was brilliant, getting in touch with 3son’s friends and guessing passwords and trying to use track my phone to find 3son. He was incredibly responsible and mature and I’m exceedingly proud of him but it affects him too.

I feel drained, as if I had been wrung dry. Then of course I had to wake up the next morning and start on my counselling course whereas I felt I had done my quota of counselling for the next month or so. On top of that I’m trying to write my next letter about funding for 2son who has had an excellent year but they have decided that one more year will do him. The haven’t got any basis for the decision but I just can’t find the words to express how I feel. I can; it just involves an awful of of rude words and suggestions. My MP has agreed to write a letter of support which is nice, but she needs me to draft it so it has the right points in it so I have two to write. I haven’t been in mood which is no surprise but the clock is ticking and I need to sort it out. I’m going up on Tuesday for a meeting with school and 2son and hope that will invigorate me.

So yes, this week has been tough, and I wonder how long it will take before it gets better. I have to believe that it will one day. 3son will grow up and will find his way. In the meantime it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


Introduction to Counselling, first


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pearls-before-swine-metroI have started an Introduction to Counselling course. I don’t think I want to become a counsellor nor do I think I want to spend the four years training to do so. But I do want to look at my options and consider changes. Also, I do want to work with people more directly in a way that effects positive change so it will be useful either way. It’s a ten week course so it’s no great commitment if it doesn’t go anywhere.

We are a mixed bunch who all started nervously sitting in silence on our chairs as if waiting for permission to turn over the papers and start the exam. Some made an effort to start up a conversation but it didn’t take. However we started introducing ourselves in pairs and then larger groups and then we went round the whole circle. The initial warm up served its purpose and we spoke quite openly about our personal experiences and needs as well as our jobs, careers and thoughts of transformation. Some want to do their current job (or voluntary) better; others were considering a career change. There were several acknowledgements of depression, alcoholism and anxieties.

I noticed that when two members introduced themselves as recovering alcoholics I instinctively withdrew any warm thoughts. That’s about me lumping them all together and being judgemental. But the fact that we all (bar one) spoke honestly and openly about why we were there was very warming and helped encourage us all to be open.

Saying hello to each other took quite a while. There was a bit of housekeeping as it was the first session.Three hours go fast. But we all acknowledged how nervous we felt at the start and how much more positive we felt at the end. This reflects the start with a new counsellor (or indeed most new things) when the fears and anxieties of starting something new can be so overwhelming that you might consider running away instead.

We talked about what counselling is and is not. We all had an intuitive grasp of the rights and wrongs of it but pinning it down to meaningful words proved rather more difficult.

Counselling isn’t telling people what to do or what is wrong with their lives; it’s not analysing all the threads as an academic case study; it’s not being their friends or their parents.

Counselling is guiding someone to make their own choices, to learn about themselves, to find their own solutions. It’s helping them to explore their own issues, understand the relevance of the past to the present and future, to be independent. It requires a level of connection and empathy without being emotionally committed.



Coercive Control and The Archers


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When I first heard Rob talk to Helen I froze to the spot. Did they know what he sounded like? It turned out that yes, they did and it was all part of a plan. For those of you who don’t listen, The Archers is a long running soap on BBC Radio 4 that was based around farming and has widened its horizons.

Today sees the culmination of a six month story line (at least) with the end of the trial and the deliberation of the jury as to whether Helen is guilty of attempting to kill her husband or whether she was acting in self-defence.

Coercive control is what I would refer to as passive-aggressive behaviour where Rob repeatedly pointed out to Helen how she wasn’t quite capable, that she was making wrong decisions and if she’d only leave them all to him life would be easier. He’s not confronting her, just chipping away at her confidence. It’s really subtle and slides you down a slippery slope until you lose all control over your life and become incapable of making a decision even if given the freedom to do so.

My father ruled the roost at home and wore away my mother’s attempts at independence until she decided that it was easier to just do what he wanted. This to the point that even when he had an affair for a couple of years she just let it slide as she didn’t have the courage to leave or the belief that she could learn to make it on her own.

Listening to Rob’s father bully his wife as well as Rob made me wonder how much of a chance the fictional Rob had to change direction as well as how much could be passed down from one generation to the next.

My father’s desire for total control, where he would discuss things for hours until my mum or I just gave in for the sake of peace. It’s not surprising that I went for men who were domineering and who very much were passive-aggressive in their manner, who sapped away at my self-confidence such that after leaving one I hooked up with another. Even when I left him too I almost started with someone else in a similar vein but luckily I finally got enough self-awareness to realise that it would be a bad move.

During the trial Helen finally reveals that she didn’t want to get pregnant by Rob and that he raped her repeatedly until she became pregnant.

I can safely say that I acquiesced to sex lots of times, because the alternative was an argument for several hours as to why I didn’t want sex, what was wrong with me, whose fault it was and why I was so unreasonable. Does that count as rape? I don’t know and I’m not about to contact the police so in that sense it doesn’t matter. But would I put myself in that situation again? No way.

I have a friend who used to get thumped by he partner. Eventually she got out and years after she actually got free of him. I think physical violence is easier to recognise, identify and denote as unacceptable. It’s easier to mark the boundary. Rob’s dad said something about what happens between a man and wife should stay between them. Luckily we have moved on from there although sadly not all cultures have.

I never listened to The Archers regularly, just got to the point where I wouldn’t turn it off it was on. I don’t like soaps. They did sensationalise it and make it go on too long which is the nature of the beast. But I have listened to every single episode over the last however many months it’s been. I have cried. I have remembered. I have felt. It’s even helped clarify some thoughts. Can we get back to worrying about the future of farming now though?

P.S. If you’re wondering what the hell The Archers is and what I’m blethering on about, try here for the short version.

Return to Reality


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somewhere likeSo I have been back for a week or so and have sunk back in to the normal routine of summer holidays.

I have moved my desk space upstairs into the boys’ bedroom so I can work in peace (with background snores) during the day and there’s a bit more air flow than in the downstairs study which mostly smells of stale boys.

I’m not particularly enthused about doing any work but at least I have a decent environment in which to do it.

I am also not particularly enthused about doing any cooking or tidying up. I’m trying to let that one go.

I have in the last week gone swimming twice. We have a new swimming pool (not even six months old) and it’s rather a pleasure to be in. It couldn’t compare to a warm blue sea under a blue sky but it’s a reasonable compromise. I have one or two others to try that aren’t on quick bus routes so were off my list.

Health-wise, the decision to leave has proven a good one. In the ten days or so I’ve been back my lungs have tightened up, my nose has become full of crap again, my breathing has become restricted. My heart seems to be pumping louder although my blood pressure seems fine when I take it. I wonder whether I can afford to wait four years.

I have indulged in fanciful thinking and been looking at house prices and locations. I’ve even begun to consider the minimalistic modular housing. This is much more fun than actually looking at jobs and where I could realistically go and how. I’m in a council house and whether I can swap for another council house I do not know. The sensible thing to do if I can’t do a council swap is to rent for a while before considering buying but I’m amazed that buying might actually be within my grasp. Given that my current home (2 bedroom Victorian mid-terrace in need of decoration) is worth over £650,000 at current mad London prices this is a totally new concept.

I will certainly need to downsize and get rid of stuff. I have an awful lot of stuff. Much of it I’ve been reluctant to throw it away as it protects me from feeling vulnerable from not having it and not being able to afford to buy it when I do want it. I have kitchenware that has been unused for years that I have been reluctant to get rid of because one day I might start cooking again. The Lego is not going.

So on the one hand I’m thinking about moving away from London and all the anxiety that does invoke (just walking into a strange leisure centre scared me) and on the other I’m considering cleaning out cupboards.

My energy levels have plummeted and I’m just a short blip away from being depressed as I return to a “normal” life. But I recognise this and am trying to be kind to myself and let it go.

Is it what I do or where I live? 


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I came across a truth as I swam contemplatively: if I want my health to stop deteriorating, however slowly, I have to move away. 

Whether it’s living under the  flight path or the general lack of air quality, my ability to breathe and be  outside in the sunshine is duminishing year on year. 

I never got hay fever before and once I realised I had got it and not just a very ling cold I went through a number of medications. Some didn’t work or had side effects; others worked for a while and then stopped. This summer I am actually staying indoors if it’s a high pollen count which makes summer and a garden a bit pointless.  Eventually I will run out of medication to try. 

I’ve had a persistent cough for a couple of months. It’s the  leftover from a cold. I’m  should expect to be more susceptible to these  kinds of minor complaints due to weakened lungs. 

I have been wondering recently about moving away and have shied away from it. I’ve found a home for the first time and good people. I don’t know where I’d go other than North of Watford gap. I also have no idea what  I might do for a living. 

I have got at least four years until 4son finishes school to consider it. It might be unwise leave the borough until 2sin has squeezed every penny of funding out of it and hopefully finished his A levels. That could be five years away. 

So, other than the total lack of detail I have a five year plan. 

Holiday, day three

I have managed the last two days to do a mindfulness body scan.  It’s a lot easier when you’re lying on a beach in comfort. 

I have also been eating mindfully, that is without my phone for entertainment but rather focusing on the food. 

I’ve been swimming three or four times a day. Again it’s a total pleasure in this sea that is a tad cold but so so blue and transparent. 

The bad news of course is that I’ve burnt a little more than I should have done which is making life a little uncomfortable. 

More worrying however is that I’m left alone with the voices in my head and they are loud. The constant self awareness when not self criticism is enough to destroy my faith in humanity and I’m the one causing it. Nobody has said or implied that where I haven’t misread where possible.  

I am contemplating excursions and I’m fairly sure it’s just because I don’t want to listen to me. I do seem that I  have the best conversations while I’m swimming. 

It’s not as if I do this a lot. The last time I had a holiday without children was two years ago and that was the first time. 

It does emphasise the need to do less and slow down generally. And lots if other things, probably. 

I never realised that relaxing is just so much hard work. 



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I am now on my second holiday all by myself and the unwritten rules are amazing. My anxieties all kick in. 

I don’t have to go on excursions. 

I don’t have to go to the local village. 

I don’t have to discover the island. 

I don’t have to do anything intelligent. 

I don’t have to leave the compound. 

I don’t have to make an effort. 

I don’t have to absorb the local culture. 

I don’t have to apologise. 

I don’t have to talk to anyone other than for politeness sake. 

I don’t have to speak the language. 

I don’t have to meet the Holiday rep. 
On the other hand,… 

I do have to learn to relax, to vegetate.

My routine (day one) is eat, read, drink, swim, doze. Repeat in any order. I don’t have to do any more than that. Not only do I not have to, it’s important that I do just that. I’m not good at doing little. But that’s exactly what I need and is why I booked an all inclusive holiday in the sun. 

Food Rules (again)


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Frites belges

Eating glorious twice cooked Belgian chips with loads of mayonnaise out in public (no wonder I like them)

I’ve covered this before but no doubt will have to cover it again until I’m done.

No “childish” foods: mash potato, ice cream, too much gravy, nuggets and the like.

No common / working class foods: the label might be inappropriate but no tinned baked beans, no brown sauce, no salad cream, no fish-fingers.

No pre-prepared foods: I don’t remember ever having any type of ready made food and that includes jars of sauces. My mum lies about using stock cubes to my dad.

No sweets: my mum used to make puddings: stodgy filling crumbles and a superb lemon and meringue pie. Proper puddings for dinners with guests. But that all stopped. My dad likes lemon sorbet (with a shot of vodka), lemon tart and the occasional tarte tatin. But no overdosing on chocolate or sweet stuff or cream. My mum used to make her own yoghurt which again, wasn’t really sweet.

Diet foods: my mum was on endless diets and we definitely had naughty foods. If you’re going to eat empty calories, make them high quality foods. Other than some of the summer fruits my parents always had a fruit bowl with oranges and apples that they forced themselves to eat because it’s good for you.

Eating rules: no eating outside on the street (it’s common); no eating with your hands (it’s just bad manners) and I still horrify my parents by eating chips with my fingers; even picking at bones should be done with a knife and fork; use the correct utensils (fish knives, chopsticks, cob holders, whatever).

I have never known my father to drink more than 2 pints in a pub (other than finishing my mother’s off). He’d exclaim if I wanted to drink beer with a meal out as wine is the proper accompaniment although he did soften to eating beer with Indian food. The last time we went out for a meal my parents had cider and I had a cocktail (two, actually). That got comments. My dad used to prepare a sort of cocktail as an aperitif, but not the sort you’d buy. I stuck to beer when he started including Cinzano.

So these are all my parents rules. I’ve added my own:

  • cook from scratch (it’s healthier and tastes better as long as you cook)
  • no artificial additives, flavouring, sweeteners
  • consider the environment; use up leftovers

I have genuinely lost the ability to enjoy puddings and yoghurts. I love lemon sorbet but I’ve gone off chocolate ice cream. I’ve started forcing myself to have jam or peanut butter on toast in the mornings in the hope that I’ll stop feeling guilty about rule-breaking. I’ve narrowed my food choices down so far that I rotate through a very limited choice which is boring. I have noticed that as I’ve got older I’m loving the vegetables that my mum used to eat for herself and rave about them without trying to force me to eat them: spinach and spring greens. I love courgettes and mushrooms. But these don’t feel like guilty pleasures.

It’s actually quite terrifying how I’ve absorbed some of these rules so much I’m not even aware the rules are there. Which is of course what therapy is there for.