Youngest is back at school. 2son is on the train back to college having a difficult journey. 3son is out somewhere and 1son is back at his dad’s. So situation is back to normal and I really feel a ball of anxiety.
I’ve got a water leak in the kitchen that has been slowly getting worse for three months now. Down to the council to fix but for various reasons they are still arguing about it. Not important but I have to mop up every time I walk into the room and I’m sick of both that and the daily phone calls.
Finance is worrying me. I am going to be OK for the next six months having tightened my financial belt but that means doing less stuff which is fun. Plus a bit more saying no to my children and asking them to pay me back when I buy tickets. I know counselling takes time to build up as a private practice let alone trying to find work within an agency so it’s not as if I’ll be going straight into financial safety once I’m done with the course (at least I’m not saying if).
I’ve got my first essay due in three weeks. Haven’t looked at it since before Christmas and am loath to pick it up and keep putting it off. 3son is about to go away for 10 days so will have extra peace at home.
We will start working on second essay when we go back to college next week and I don’t like juggling both simultaneous. That one is then due in March with two more by end of next term.
Then there is the question of whether I can find my way through my client work and actually learn to not fuck up the first few sessions. Which, given that this has been sitting on my mind all Christmas means that is is growing to epic proportions. I had an extra session with my therapist before Christmas and we talked through it which helped enormously. I shall discuss it in solo supervision this week and then see a new client next week and hopefully they won’t run away. I wanted to spend some time after Christmas really thinking about this but I haven’t had the time or space.
I’m also not looking forward to being back at college as I don’t feel willing, ready or open to sharing this difficulty with them which is going to make some aspects of working together difficult and feel false.
My sleep has gone completely to pot. I’m back using sleep stories every night and although I am sleeping fairly deeply I am also waking up 3-4 times a night so am not feeling refreshed at all. I am wondering whether the stress of the course is too much for me to cope with but then I wonder about the lack of alternatives.
I’m onto stable medication for my blood pressure that is so minimal I’m not sure it’s doing anything but am sometimes “hearing” my heart pounding wakes me up in the morning. My GP thinks having slightly higher pressure is OK for the moment. I’m not sure.
So in summary I feel that I’m skating on thin ice and am feeling really incapable of dealing with it. Life seems quite overwhelming at the moment with little to look forward to and no way through that doesn’t involve fighting in a way that I am totally bored with now. Meditation is currently a big struggle too, although I’m not dropping it. I feel as is I’ve gone back three years.
I am however overwhelmingly grateful for my children who are not causing me anguish, and my body which is very slowly changing shape in a good way. Those are the two good things I am hanging onto at the moment.
I never do new year resolutions and am not quite clear about the difference between resolutions and intentions but would consider intentions to be kinder and more forgiving.
Today’s daily calm meditation invited me to look down on myself from very high up and choose something I could let go of. I shed a few gentle tears as I realised the one thing I really need to let go of is my father’s voice telling me that I am not good enough, that anything other than pushing myself to the absolute maximum and beyond is inadequate. That is the only thing that matters for now.
I have reached a crunch point in my counselling placements. Whilst I have two clients who are both past their sixth session I have lost at least three in the first few sessions because they didn’t feel that I was “contactable”. In other words I am feeling extremely anxious because it’s a first session with a new client (I’m not good at meeting new people outside the counselling room either) and when I feel anxious I put the barriers up, and that makes me unreachable.
The clients I have kept are under 40 and the ones I have lost are over 40. Maybe I find the younger ones easier to reach because I’m not transferring my father onto them.
I suspect it all comes down to fear of not being good enough, of anything less than perfection being inadequate, of my saying less through fear of saying the wrong thing. I then say nothing, or say it badly or just trip over my tongue. I worry about interrupting a flow preferring to wait for a pause that never comes. I worry about how the client is receiving me to the point that she’s not because my defences are up.
More than simply relaxing I need to tear down my walls, to make myself vulnerable. I cannot sit back and wait for the client to come to me; I have to reach out to them emotionally. It’s not that I don’t care or aren’t empathic but that I don’t feel confident or even safe enough with a new client to let my emotions show.
To a certain extent this is where I have reached in my own personal therapy. I have inch by inch over the last few years become more confident, more open and more capable of dealing with the ups and downs of life. I know where my comfort zone ends and push beyond it more. I look after myself better than I used to.
But, and it’s a huge but, at my core, deep inside I am a very vulnerable small person who is scared of being challenged and failing to respond appropriately. I am scared of being judged and found wanting. And all I can see as I write this is my father’s face hovering in front of me telling me that I am failing yet again.
All this fear and anxiety is a barrier to my growth. It’s a barrier to my personal growth and now it’s proving a barrier to my professional growth as a counsellor. I’m feeling as if that slow inching forward needs to turn into a gallop that resolves itself before I get another new client. I’m also aware that these clients are coming in a vulnerable position in need of support that I am failing to give them. I’m not filling the basic core condition that the client must feel that empathy and unconditional positive regard coming from me.
I don’t know how to resolve this. I don’t know how to resolve this at a gallop. I am wondering if the sensible thing is to defer for a year so that I can have a bit more time to work through this but I also know that will feel like a failure and hit me emotionally and also be harder financially. I don’t even want to have to explain to people why I’m taking another year.
There are some practical issues as well. We learn how to be a person-centred counsellor in a purist way, learning with our peers who behave well when they act as clients. The difference between that and real world clients who are much more vulnerable and much more scared and willing to run away from it all is huge. I do not think we spent enough time covering this initial first few sessions and the vulnerability of them. I haven’t yet found my words, my ways of explaining how it all work to the level necessary in those first few sessions, of explaining just enough to keep them going without scaring them off. This I can better prepare for.
I don’t know whether my peers are experiencing or have experienced similar issues They tend to talk about clients they’ve had for longer rather than the ones they’ve lost early on. I do feel that I have fallen behind those who have completed their first 100 client hours and who seem to act with much greater confidence, a confidence which is totally understandable. I do not feel like sharing where I am with this process and opening myself up.
Looking at the worst case scenario rather than hiding from it, I don’t become a counsellor, whether I finish the course or not. I have to find a different way forward in my life and start a serious job hunt for something else that allows me to care for people but without making me so vulnerable. If it required more training there would be additional financial difficulties which would sap my strength but I would find a way. Starting again would set me back and I would have to learn to see these past few years as a journey of self-discovery rather than a failure to reach a target. And yes, I would have to get over the shame.
I am slowly this year coming to terms with a new and improved attitude to my body. And I haven’t got used to it.
Understanding where body shame came from is harder, and this is the first time I’ve admitted to it as shame.
I do not remember feeling bad about my body, as a child, teenager or even young adult. I put on weight with pregnancies and took it off afterwards. I lost two stone when I got divorced. I accepted the ups and downs of weight as part and parcel of being pregnant. I had done Weight Watchers before my fourth pregnancy and achieved gold. I made it to a size 10 and found clothes to buy in the sale.
After I became single, and in a sense my whole life didn’t start until that point I started putting on weight and this time WW didn’t work. I was following their rules and doing 20km a day on a cross trainer and still putting on weight. That was when I gave up on WW, deciding there must be more to weight than this and started exploring intuitive eating and a slow journey to self care which carries on to this day.
I have spent a few years looking for exercise, for a fitness regime that suits me and makes sense to me. I have tried going to exercise classes which I enjoyed but they took up too much time and such a palaver of getting there and back and changing. The same applies to swimming: I love swimming but hate changing rooms. So I looked to home fitness and tried Wii fit, dance mats etc. all of which were fun but not quite right.
Then this year I came across (no idea from where) The Balanced Life, an online Pilates instructor who records her classes on the beach and has a hugely positive bedside manner which encourages me to try rather than criticise me for not doing it perfectly. I started in March doing a free challenge of 10 minutes a day for a month. It took me three months to complete it, after which I went back and did it in a month. Then I signed up and other than a lack of routine over the summer am currently quite faithful, even enjoying those routines that are 30-40 minutes.
What has made the difference and enabled me to commit?
Pilates gets results very quickly. Even with ten minutes I noticed a stronger body and a greater ability to maintain control. Because it’s not about pushing myself to go further or to do more reps it’s encouraged me to listen to my body more and be more aware of what my body is doing and how it is handling the movement. Plus I can feel a physical difference if I run my hands over my self. My waist is tighter as are my hips and bum. So I get positive feedback which encourages me to do it even when I’m not in the mood as I know once I’ve started I will feel better and energised it. I finish it off with my daily calm meditation.
That, in a sense, is all a preamble, explaining where I am now to go back to where I came from.
My first memories of my mother physically is her being young and joyful in sundresses that she spent one year adding length to in order to be more respectable, saying they were no longer decent now she was older. She used to wear backless sundresses on holiday and other similar minimal clothing and these slowly disappeared as she got older and fatter. So did the joy and exuberance. She hated being fat and whilst my father would encourage her to lose weight he also said she was always perfect and he wouldn’t accommodate any change in diet to support her. So she tried and failed every single diet going and I tried to support her, seeing her really struggle with wanting to lose weight and loving cheese and other good food.
My father was always thin and occasionally very thin. If he was busy he would go the whole day without food and it not affect him. I used to think that was useful and eventually I realised that he just shut out sensations of hunger when they were inconvenient. He never put on weight himself so never had to address it as an issue personally.
However, body is more than weight and size. My father had a commitment to long distance walking and rock climbing from his youth and the walking was the physical activity we all had to participate in. Rock climbing was too dangerous and un-ladylike. Walking was never optional. My mother took me to the swimming pool until I was old enough to go on my own but there was never any encouragement or support for other activities, like playing team sports outside of school or any other physical exercise. I do remember a brief dalliance with ballet when I was 12. But I was mostly never allowed to try stuff out or exercise free will.
This extended to being ill. It wasn’t allowed and I often got sent home from school, especially when older, for being too ill with staff asking why on earth my parents sent me in when I wasn’t capable. Illness was something to be ignored, pushed through and dismissed. In a sense I think my father saw it as a sign of mental weakness that shouldn’t be tolerated. When he had an operation on his lungs for cancer in his 70s he refused to listen to surgeon’s expected recovery times and proved himself better by being more active earlier, to the point that he burst his internal stitches and had to have another operation. This is how much illness and disease feature in his head.
At a recent family gathering my sister asked my father whether he was wearing his hearing aid, recently acquired after his gradual deafness in one ear. He told her to mind her own bloody business, which constitute strong words for him. He is in his 80s and his body is slowly failing. He cannot accept the help that a hearing aid would provide because it attests to his fragility and he is ashamed.
This short exchange made me realise that he was (and is) ashamed that he cannot fully control his body, that it does things without his permission and that shouldn’t be allowed. He should somehow be able to dictate strength by force of will.
I once as a child fainted at the dentist. He’d done whatever he was doing and I stood up out of dental chair. As he and my mother were talking I remember thinking that I felt weird and was going to faint but I couldn’t do that as it would be inappropriate. I was trying to work out how to explain that I needed to sit down, even though it would be rude to make a grown up stand up for me, when I just collapsed on them and I remember their looks of horror and surprise as I did. I was trying to dictate strength because weakness was for wusses.
This piece would also not be complete without mentioning my bike crash on the way to school which resulted in seven stitches and almost losing an eye. I lost consciousness and woke up in the back of my parents’ car as they drove me to hospital hearing my mother saying “oh no, she’s being sick again” in a manner that made me feel a failure for making a mess of the inside of the car and the cleaning that she would have to do.
I have suffered multiple years of ortho-dentistry and being strong and unflinching when faced with pain. I used to consider retaining my teeth as long as possible to be my main aim with dentistry and it was not until my 40s that I said I wanted the pain to stop.
I have developed huge resilience, both physical and mental over the decades. After four pregnancies and an unsurprisingly weakened lower back it still took me many years and pain for me to start physio for my lower back which was probably the first act of physical self-care for me. Pilates under this particular instructor allow me for the first time to really explore my body, listen to its abilities and feel it working; to treat it with respect for what it can do and acknowledge what it can’t whilst gently working to minimise the difference between the two. Pilates is becoming an act of self-love and self-care.
I am supposed to have taken a week off work in order to get on with my next counselling essay. I have instead made some phone calls, sorted out some minor issues, done some Christmas shopping, read books (that have nothing to do with counselling), thought about my physical health and wellbeing (there’s a post that needs writing on this), done lots of thinking about all sorts of random shit and spent at least ten minutes looking at my essay and putting it aside. Even now I’m writing this rather than look at it.
I’m finding it hard to focus. My mind is in a panic and it’s getting worse. It’s not just the assignment per se although this one is particularly uninspiring and it’s a huge challenge to get motivated to write it. I am not alone in this and we are all screaming at the dryness of the topic, with only our discussion of our placement experiences to keep us sane. The weight of four such assignments to be completed before July gets heavier and heavier.
I am finding that as winter slowly descends I am cocooning myself at home more than I usually do. Rather than watch the night descend and people walking home quickly from school and work I am closing the curtains as it starts to get dark and ignoring it. I’m not going out in the evening as much, whether locally or into London. One of my peers suggested it was the impact of client work and the need to retreat which is a generous interpretation that I’m not sure if I can accept.
I have spend the last two months trying out a variety of blood pressure medication to find ones that don’t interfere with my sleep and that has affected more than my sleep. We have run out of easy options and I think on my next visit to my GP I will elect to stay where I am for the next six months until I finish my counselling course as I need the stability, even if my sleep and blood pressure aren’t fixed. It has also been weird cutting down on my medication and being more aware of the beating of my heart and how loud and fast it can be sometimes. That is disconcerting and stressful.
I no longer find it easy to go to sleep as my mind races and although I start every evening considering an earlier bedtime in order to compensate it very rarely happens. Then of course I go back to worrying about my lack of sleep. Lack of sleep itself contributes to weight and stress.
If the four main inputs to high blood pressure are weight, stress, salt and alcohol then I have made the easy changes: I have ditched all added salt, which creates cravings for Marmite and salty cheese, and reduced alcohol even more, managing to spend more than one evening in a pub on one pint and it not bothering me. I cannot be doing with weight loss and am ignoring that. I am focused on my Pilates which I am enjoying doing every day, from ten to forty minutes, depending on my schedule. I am aware of a difference in my body shape and strength, of no longer needing a supportive chair at college and of feeling generally healthier and more body aware. This is a huge achievement and change for me than I haven’t really fully acknowledged yet. Doing something about stress seems virtually impossible at the moment with my course taking up so much head space.
It is not just the course though. It is also the awareness of the future beyond the course, the difficulties of finding paid employment as a freshly-qualified counsellor, and the difficulties of going into private practice without any guarantee of income. My youngest will also be making decisions about his future as he finishes school at the same time. His older brother has just changed jobs in a positive way but I have been thinking about all our futures and how intertwined they all are.
On top of all those changes there is the financial pressure of not earning enough this year while I complete the course and have no capacity for anything else and the pressures that imposes on lifestyle. Everything else seems minor with the usual list of domestic pressures and the list of things I would like to do when I’m not finishing this course.
I am therefore reading more, and watching more telly, which are both great distractions but don’t really solve anything. Away from the distractions I have ginormous monologues in my head thinking about stuff but not really in a productive way. I have considered the need for more meditation but haven’t quite found the time to do it, sticking to my ten minutes even though I’m struggling to gently be in those ten minutes.
It feels as if I am fighting myself on multiple fronts and they are all really angry, aggressive and really shouty. Peace is what I want but I cannot find the space for it. And so the assignment remains unwritten.
We’ve almost finished the autumn term and I still haven’t worked out how to manage everything.
I have college one day a week, which I usually follow by an evening event, either a play or music, since I am going to be tired anyway so it’s nice to make use of being in central London.
I have placements on two days a week, neither of which is a full day, although one is 3 clients whereas the other is 1. Add to that another day which includes my own personal therapy and two lots of supervision per month and the week is filling up. I have been used to having my days free for the last five years or so to work in or lay about as I choose, with minimal specific commitments. That is a change.
There’s the college work to juggle and the client work to juggle. There’s paperwork for both to manage. There’s having to do paid work to juggle. There’s little bits and bobs from volunteer work and of course domestic nonsense.
Then there’s self care: down time in which to do nothing, read a book, watch TV, go out with friends, spend time with family, play board games, go to gigs, have leisurely baths etc. etc.
I am firmly back in a routine of starting off the day with Pilates, either ten minutes if short of time, or 30-40 minutes otherwise, followed by my Daily Calm meditation. I’ve noticed a physical difference in myself and I seem to have grown a centimetre.
I have discovered that my blood pressure medication interferes with my sleep so I’ve spent the last couple of months trying different medications to see which controls my pressure successfully without buggering up my sleep. The answer seems to be none which will present another set of problems. So trying to sort that out, with medications that have side effects that may or may not disappear after a couple of days or not has also affected my well being, both physically and mentally.
If the four key elements affecting blood pressure are weight, stress, salt and alcohol then I have cut out all additional salt and reduced alcohol some more. Weight and stress are harder, especially this year.
I have also been for a sleep apnoea test for which I’m awaiting results. If I have it then that is something else to ponder on.
This year is also going to be tight financially. I’m unable to do any more paid work as I haven’t the time and the costs of doing the course are going up, just with extra train journeys, petrol and incidentals. I have cut back, but what I’ve cut back on tends to be the fun side of life, so much of which isn’t free. I’m trying to make better use of cheap theatre tickets and the like. But all that is another pressure.
We have no assignments this term but there is that knowledge that we have four assignments to complete next year along with all paperwork before qualifying. I’m not enjoying the prospect of the slog of getting these done. That hangs over me.
The fact that I was slow to get sorted on placements means that I have very few client hours. I have just about hit twenty and am very aware that those of my peers who are on the 60+, let alone the 100 hours that are required for the course have a greater wealth of confidence in their abilities than I have. I will catch up but in the meantime I’m feeling behind. That hangs over me.
Setting all this out on paper, or screen, makes it all feel very understandable that I am struggling and feeling overwhelmed with not having time to think or to simply be. I am trying to accept that I felt somewhat similar last year and I will get through it, one step at a time. The less I can worry about it the better but it is all so much easier said than done.
I needed to stop feeling that every day was a challenge to be met with work that needed to be done. Whether it was about gainful employment, assignments to be written, counselling books to be read, chores to be done and all that myriad of things that find their way onto my list of Things to Be Done, in my head or on paper. I needed to stop.
Some of it was unplanned. I had a few placement clients who, for various reasons, didn’t last long. So that expectation of client work filling up the holiday disappeared. I also didn’t chase getting new clients quite as much as I could have because I was enjoying the break.
I had a break from personal therapy of a month. I had bought a number of counselling books in the last term which I didn’t pick up. I didn’t look at assignments for this coming year. I did nothing course wise at all.
Instead I had two trips to pick up and drop off 2son and turned them into a week each for me, knowing full well I wasn’t going to get a “proper” holiday. I visited friends I hadn’t seen for a few years and pottered up the east coast paddling at multiple beaches along the way and really enjoying the peace that big water brings.
With those two trips forcibly bookending the summer I did as little as possible in between. I didn’t go for big days out anywhere. I didn’t really go into London for exhibitions and plays that I might have enjoyed. I did potter about locally, going out with friends and a few trips.
My children are all so much more self-sufficient, with my youngest having got a summer job so being out the house all week every week, 2son being much more contented with himself and therefore less of a worry. We were all just getting on with our lives and periodically coming together as a family to be silly, or talk, or whatever.
I got back into reading fiction, abandoning what I was doing whenever the sun was out and relaxing in the garden with a book and a cup of tea. That was my achievement over the summer, just lots of reading for pleasure.
I then spent most of September digging my heels in, not wanting to be back at college, back in any sense of routine, not feeling ready to start again. That’s the trouble with downing tools: sometimes it’s just really hard to pick them up again.
Now, partway through October I am feeling the need to get organised, to have a routine, to build a strategy to get through this year. I have started a second placement so the week is filling up with commitments of college, two placements, therapy, two lots of supervision, plus work, plus all the other stuff. This year feels like an endurance challenge rather than a voyage of exploration. I will get through it but I am more looking forward to having it done.
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.
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 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
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.