People don’t “pass”: they die

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So here I am, the night before our next course session, writing up my learning journal and wondering what happened last week.

I forgot to do the last one for the first time and do not feel good about that. I was happy that it was the end of term and that I was going to see 1son after. In fact several peers came to the pub and met him so that was interesting. The only other thing I remember is that I was first to check in which hasn’t happened before. I knew what I wanted to say and just got it done.

I was really happy to walk in after a month away. Some of us met up beforehand and had a bit of a picnic on the grass in the lovely summer weather that had turned up at last. Much as having the space was nice during the holiday, it does feel like coming home, especially now the group has shrunk. There are two others going for the person-centred diploma with the rest going integrative. I don’t want to lose the people I won’t be with but on the other hand, saying good-bye is part of the ending we need to learn. Will we keep in touch? It’s not something I’m very good at.

We talked about loss, bereavement and many stages of grief, depending on which theory you’re following. In all honesty I found it a bit simplistic. I did think I ought to look at it in comparison to loss of childhood but I haven’t.

I did hate the phrase “pass” which has become increasingly in use rather than “die”. It used to just be Americans who used it and they tended to use the phrase “pass over” as in pass over to the other side, whatever your definition of the other side is. Over the last five to ten years this has taken over in the UK as well. Newspapers, radio, media in general has all stopped saying that anyone has died. Well, I tend to take the view that if you cannot say that someone has died you are going to have troubles in coming to term with it. So I say die. But in counselling terms if a client is sitting in front of you saying “pass” do you say it too? I think not as it wouldn’t be congruent But does that then lack sensitivity?

PD was weird. We all sort of went back to the beginning and stared at the floor. I felt uncomfortable at the pelting given to D as to whether or not he should accept his relationship split up or not. Lots of advice being chucked at him by people who only knew part of the story. I tried to change the mood by telling S’s story of having met a guy and having lots of fun with no thought as to the future which did indeed have people cheering her on. I felt so happy for her. At the same time I accepted that I couldn’t be her. I do not have that confidence. But I did think that one day I might have some more, which in itself is progress.

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Dear Dad

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For some reason, the letter to my mother was more or less chronological but the one to my father is far more jumbled. Read into that what you will.

Dear Dad,

You once told me that life would be easier to deal with if I took my emotions and locked them all up inside of me, behind a nice big wall to protect me from the outside world. You were wrong, but I did try.

You always wanted to win. You argued with us, not to debate, discuss or educate, but to win. You refused to ever admit you’d lost an argument so there were times when I would point out you had lost and wouldn’t admit and I’d walk away. I sat there quietly at the dinner table so many times watching 2sis argue with you and then leave the table in a flurry of tears.

I didn’t understand why the move abroad changed you. Before there had been bedtime stories and visits to work and special occasions. I suppose the pressure on you was enormous, that having created this job you had to prove yourself worthy. But I felt that I’d lost you.

I hated being forced to go for walks. I hated to be forced to walk quickly so that whatever there was to look at had to be looked at whilst moving. I hated the sense that this was not a promenade, but there was a target, a destination, distance and time all to be kept to. I hated having to sit outside the pub with my sisters sharing a packet of crisps while you two went in and had a few beers. I forced myself to enjoy them to the extent that I could, but that was often about getting lost in my own mind.

I hated the sarcasm, the mockery, being laughed at. You made me feel smaller than I already was.

I enjoyed the Tour de Mont Blanc that we did when I was seven. 100 miles in ten days across snow and surrounded by beautiful landscape. That was worth it. There was a moment when you showed me what to do if I found myself slipping down a deep slope when I realised that you were absolutely petrified for me. This fear of losing one of your children and eventually your grandchildren was completely unsurprising considering you’d lost a brother, but I didn’t know that. I asked you to teach me rock climbing, thinking this was something you enjoyed and I wanted to have a go at, that it would be good bonding. I eventually gave up, realising that you were passing on your fear to me and I became more nervous and unsure than I was when we started.

You would enter holiday mode and relax. We learned to recognise the signs which usually included terrible jokes we had to laugh at, just because you expected us to. I’m sure it was all a game to you. As I got older you would take me out every few months for a meal and we would talk. I would sit there in fear wanting to get the serious chat about what I was doing over and done with so I could relax and enjoy. Sometimes that moment didn’t come but I was always waiting for it.

You made mum unhappy and you couldn’t see that. You were emotionally blind. You are slightly less so now.

When I was being bullied at school you told me that it didn’t matter, that you never had any friends at school and look how you turned out. That wasn’t just unhelpful; that was scary. I had already recognised that you had very few friends and little social life. I already knew I wanted more. My mother said I cried myself to sleep for two years and that one summer she wrote you a letter that you took on board and changed my school. Finally. I however have a sneaking suspicion that you actually swapped schools because my French teacher was hell bent on getting me to repeat a year and that I would have to start learning English as a foreign language, both of which you would have seen as a waste of valuable education.

There was at some point a brief discussion about sending me to boarding school but by that time I was so unhappy at school that I couldn’t contemplate the idea of having to live there as well. At least I could hide away in my bedroom. Later there was an even briefer discussion about therapy, as mum was having some. By then I think I thought I had to go it alone and that even though you offered, it wouldn’t have lasted long. You would have kept asking me if I was cured.

If it wasn’t for your mother I wouldn’t have known you had a brother. Pain that was buried so deep the first time it came out was at the infamous dinner party where you met your soon to be mistress. She said it then took you three months before you rang her. I wonder what was going through your mind in that time. More to the point, when she suggested I was unhappy and would be better off living with her for a bit, what possessed you to say yes? How could you be so naive to think I wouldn’t find out, that she wouldn’t tell me, when we were living under the same roof? How do you think that made mum feel, that you’d not only had an affair but had handed me over to your mistress. You really did think that no one would ever know. You got that wrong. You took me out for dinner and just said that you’d behaved badly and whoops-a-daisy and that was as much detail as you went into.

The day I got my results for O or A levels, you just said that is what happens when you don’t work hard enough. We’d had conversations over the years where you would say put aside your feelings and all that nonsense and just focus on your homework. My reply was that I couldn’t. You never got that. You also never explained why you wouldn’t pay £300 for a school trip to Russia that I thought was a bargain. I still don’t get that.

You somehow expected me to understand that money was tight when we moved back to London. But we had a temporary flat before moving into a nice big house in the centre of London and you sent me to an independent school. You never mentioned that money was tight because you never mentioned such things. Somehow I was just expected to know.

We have over the years had several conversations about your big mountain climbing trip. I was six and so proud of you going off to climb a big scary mountain. You got altitude sickness and came down early and it wasn’t until years later that mum suggested it was psycho-somatic and you were just plain scared. Now you talk about how stupid and foolish it was to do something so physically dangerous when you could have left a family at home bereft of a father and breadwinner. You saw it as a failure as you didn’t make it to the top. I saw it as a success because you gave it a go and because you came back down again in one piece. We shall never agree on this and it highlights much of the difference in attitudes between us.

During my teenage years and beyond when you took me out you would ask me how mum was doing. You realised that she would tell me things she wouldn’t tell you and I would try and explain things so you could understand. I was so tempted to tell you to ask her directly but I knew she wouldn’t say anything. She did at time complain of being piggy in the middle between you and your daughters but it was a role she chose and she didn’t mind me being it for her.

You wouldn’t let me go to our uncle’s funeral, despite my having spent holidays with him and asking to go. Your excuse was that I couldn’t miss school and it was a fair bit of travelling. I wonder if you were just scared at the prospect of taking a pre-teen with you who was expressing her grief. You didn’t like death. When L died and you had to phone me with the news, as I sat there crying you told me that since she had four properties each of her children would get one so that was all right. When we all sat there in church for your mother’s Christian funeral I wondered if she was laughing at the idea that she’d managed to get you to go to church for once.

It must have been about ten years ago the last time I tried to talk to you about why I was in counselling, what I had learned about myself and my childhood. You just said it was about time I put all this nonsense to bed and grew out of it. Harsh words that showed a total lack of understanding and I vowed never to give it one last try again.

You never listened to me. I wanted to go to drama college and you wouldn’t countenance it. I was your last chance to get a child at Oxford and you wouldn’t let go of that dream. Never mind that I didn’t want to go and had no idea what to study, sorry, read. I made enquiries and pursue half heartedly an Oxford college and simultaneously buggered up my A levels so we no longer had the option. You gave me the minimal financial support for drama college and blamed it all on me when I walked out early due to poor teaching. That again was clearly my fault.

The one time I dared to have a vaguely teenage rebellious argument with you both before I moved out I complained that neither of you ever said you loved me. I think my mother replied that she thought I knew. You asked, and I’m not sure how it came about, whether I loved you and I said “because you’re my father”. You said it wasn’t a very good reason and I replied that it was the only one I had.
At some point as a child I buried all the anger I had towards you and turned it into understanding. The loss of your brother, your mother being quite cold and stopping you from having a relationship with your father, these all isolated you and taught you to bury feelings deep. But you were never able to move on from there and dig them up again. You were stuck. I recognised all that and told you once that I thought you were the best father you were capable of being. but I didn’t really mean it as a compliment.

Now there is just anger, mixed up with sorrow. I had a positive relationship with mum at times. There was honesty and openness even if it was limited. But I don’t think I ever really did with you. I always had to worry about saying the wrong thing, about not upsetting you. You just dismissed everything you didn’t want to hear.

Dear Mum

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I don’t know if this will help me let go, move on, accept, integrate, whatever it is I need to do but here are the words I will never be able to say…

Dear Mum,

We barely speak now, and never about anything substantial. You take me to one side to talk about Dad’s health and how you struggle to feed him up as he doesn’t like mentioning such things. In many ways, nothing has changed and you’re still dancing to his tune. Except that he did move back to England, just for you and that was a huge sacrifice for him.

My view of you has changed so much over the years.

I came home to you wallpapering the sitting room and hanging up the curtains you had made that now grace my sitting room. You took me to theatres and museums and introduced me to amateur dramatics with your first role as Mrs Noah. Dinner was always on the table; you took me to the library regularly and I could not understand why you were so excited to have a job at a local baker’s once I started school full time.

It was not until years later that you told me that your most serious thought of leaving my father was when he gloated over cheating and beating me at Scrabble. I have never been fond of the game. I would have been about six. You reasonably questioned what sort of person gloated about this but you also made it clear that you would have run away leaving us behind with him so it would have been yourself you were protecting, not us children.

When we moved abroad life changed. So much. Dad became the “big bad wolf” we had to protect each other from. In the evenings he was absent we’d sit and watch hours of television, whether there was anything to watch or not, just because we could. We did things to keep him happy and behaved differently when he wasn’t there. The house relaxed. It seemed like a great sisterly bond between us which felt great but none of this was good.

You could deal with 2sis’s epileptic fits, in those days before her medication worked. You were calm and caring and may well have prevented her swallowing her tongue. But you couldn’t cope with 1sis’s tantrums when she would scream and shout, sometimes throw crockery about. She would eventually calm down and typically be reduced to tears. That you left dad to deal with and, if he wasn’t there, you dealt with badly. You were frightened.

We started up the amateur dramatics. It was a fun release from the every day hum drum. You found it amusing watching me getting chatted up by men three times my age. The first person who said he loved me (and who knows what he meant) was white haired, and lovely. You trusted me to make sense and behave in an adult’s world and I did. I grew up far too fast and never got on with my peers again as they all seemed so childish.

Then there were the trips down to your mother’s, mostly without Dad. The three of us relaxed, drank, discussed everything freely and felt safe in a magical world. When your mother died for me that world crumbled. For you it still is a necessary retreat. When you wrote memoirs about your mother you titled it after the house, not her.

On our return to London, whatever we had left as a family all fell apart. Dad got ill with worry over new job; we didn’t have a house; you had no life and friends; I started a new school most unhappily. He had an affair; you went on anti-depressants for six months and then pronounced yourself cured. You fought to get off them, you said. I often wondered whether anything would have changed if you persisted with therapy or whether you stopped when you realised what you might open up.

At some point we had the conversation about 1sis being yours and not dad’s and why you hadn’t told me although you’d told 2sis, who took it badly. I don’t think I ever comprehended what an unplanned pregnancy did to you and when I eventually met 1sis’s genetic father I agreed that he wasn’t for you. But then, would you have married dad if you hadn’t been pregnant? I think not.

Dad had his affair and when she told you, you didn’t leave him. You decided it wasn’t worth the effort of starting a new life. You eventually forgave me for not saying anything about it long before I did.

I don’t know what discussions you two had about my first “proper” boyfriend but I think you persuaded dad that a boyfriend twenty years older than me was much more sensible than a young thing. No it wasn’t and when I tried dumping him it took a year as he threatened suicide. He did survive in the end but that was the start of a pattern of boyfriends who were emotionally abusive and manipulative, whether they knew it or not.

I had myself swallowed a bottle of pills one weekend. I left a note. I didn’t really believe the bottle was full enough to kill me, but I did think I might have to end up in hospital and have someone pay me some attention. In the end I just had a long afternoon nap. I woke up, put away the note and wondered what to day. I think the said boyfriend told my mother. But at any rate, you found out and when I threw it in your face a while later, you simply said that you knew. That was it. Never discussed since.

Fast forward a few years…

When I told you that I was starting counselling, your immediate response was “Are you going to start blaming us for everything?” My nice answer was that it wasn’t about blame, but about understanding which appeased you awhile. It wasn’t my honest answer.

Your mother got cancer. It became clear that she was not coming out of hospital to live in her home on her own any more. Can you imagine what that must have been like for her? You told me how, that last evening, you walked round the garden, breathing it all in and saying goodbye to the house. After much negotiation, she came back to England for wonderful NHS end of life care and luckily she didn’t quite last a year out but degenerated rapidly. I only went to see her once, what with small children and idiot partner. I should have gone down more but it was so hard. We knew we were saying goodbye and that failing person lying in bed waiting to die was not my grandmother.

I loved her so much and was grateful for all that she taught me. It was for that reason that I spent a whole year trying to explain to you both that when you gave 2sis all the contents of her house after 2sis decided to buy it for a family home that I felt ignored. It wasn’t fair.You were so relieved that you could take it off the market and keep it within the family that all those plans to let us all pick our books, keepsakes and odd piece of furniture in our grandmother’s memory vanished. After a year I got the briefest acknowledgement that you both may not have approached it the right way but it’s done now. End of story. That was the last time I tried explaining anything personal to you.

You used to acknowledge that 2sis spent many years trying to put me down. She never felt that she was the favourite and her answer was to mock me in front of you both as dad had. I let her because I realised it was her self-confidence that was lacking and not about me. At some point you decided to stop seeing any of this and not know what I was talking about. That hurt.

You were never good at emotional drama. A kiss and a hug and a few comments but very rarely were you willing to fight for me, or anyone else.

2sis took the house on and for a few years you and dad arranged summer holidays down there. I’d become single by then and we all shared a house across the road from 2sis and her family in my grandmother’s house. It worked for a few years but then living with my children just got too much for you. Dad made 1son cry once and that was the last time we stayed. It was the same holiday (I think) when I finally told Dad off for telling me to lose weight. I told him it didn’t help and wasn’t doing anything for my self-esteem. He reminded me that you had a brief period feeling depressed but that you’d fought it and won. I didn’t bother saying that maybe you should have stayed in therapy.

That last holiday was also the time when I said to you, and for once 2sis was in the room and supported me, that it was about time you either faced dad or stopped moaning about him. One way or another, deal with it, was my message. I was tired of hearing it. You didn’t like this and it was the first step in my breaking away from you.

The next year we tried having a holiday at your house but my children didn’t all go to bed at 6pm and Dad couldn’t cope. We had that fantastic moment when you sat on one end of the sofa, I sat on the other, Dad sat opposite us and said “your mother doesn’t think you two are talking as much as you used to “. You couldn’t even say it yourself but had to get him to. I said something about how counselling meant you revalued relationships and things changed. That was the second step.

The third and final step, when I heard whatever bond we had left break, was in the Italian restaurant near me. There had been an outbreak of teenage suicides in some village and it was on the news. You tittered and exclaimed how coincidental it was that two of your daughters had tried suicide. I didn’t know about 1sis so I asked and you told me. I sat there thinking “You didn’t go to her bedside. What sort of mother are you?”. The answer came to me, “a shit one” and that was it. I felt free of any sense of duty to honour you or be grateful. I’m not quite sure that’s the right phrase but it will do.

We’ve barely had a conversation since. You stopped coming over to see me or your grandchildren and dad did visits instead, which he could as his mother had died so he had more free time. And yes, I am thankful for the few pieces of her furniture of hers I have as they remind me of her every time I look at them. I’d asked for the one painting your mother had that I really like and you got me a replacement as one of your grandsons had expressed a liking for it so he came first. I hated the frame. I hated the lack of understanding. I still do.

There’s a reason we just have polite empty conversations, why I don’t tell you anything about my life, why I no longer phone up for a chat as you similarly don’t. There’s nothing to talk about.

I am the “Go To” Person

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I feel as if I’ve crossed a Rubicon I didn’t realise was there. I have used people to dump on and it’s OK because that’s what friends are for.

Recently a friend of mine was in severe pain, and telling me about it I offered her a lift to the doctor’s. No big deal; it’s a whole two minute walk. She accepted and I drove her to the doctor’s and then to the pharmacist and then back home. An hour or so and it felt so good to be helping a friend rather than moaning at her.

Today I got a phone call from a friend who just said, are you busy, can you take me to A&E. As I joked to her whilst waiting, I left a cup of hot tea for her. That is true love. We spent four hours or so hanging out at the hospital, waiting for people to sort her out. She wanted me in with her to hold her hand, which I’ve never done before. It was so lovely feeling appreciated. She is the one who picked me up after my angiogram when they insist you have a friend to collect you. It was nice to be able to return the favour. She kept apologising and I kept saying shut up. We caught up on chit chat and I did say she didn’t have to do all this just for my company. I really like this person and would happily go when she whistles.

I got home and a few hours later someone knocked on my door in tears and I spent a few hours talking to her, very much in counselling mode with a bit of hand holding and advice thrown in. Someone who I admire very much for dealing with the immense amount of shit that life has thrown at her, has just had some more thrown at her and needed to talk. I was glad to be there for her.

I was thinking throughout these experiences that it was lovely to be the person they called for help. I have spent so many years being the one calling for help or needing it; followed by years of being busy dealing with my own stuff and not really being available for others, that it was just really great being the one who provides the support.

I feel that somehow I’ve just levelled up in the game of life.

Dear Head, Dear Heart

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Dear Me of thirty odd years ago,

This is your head speaking.

You have parents who love you, even if they can’t really show it.

Your sisters may have seen you as a little sister to be bossed around but they weren’t nasty to you, at least not until 2sis left home. When did that start I wonder? When did 2sis start putting you down all the time? 1sis floated in and out of your life sometimes interesting, usually entertaining, frequently disruptive in an admirable way. Both of them left you to it, most of the time.

You have a privileged upbringing. Your mum taught you to read by the age of three and only when I tried to do the same did I realise quite how difficult and time consuming that is.You were encouraged to read and taken on frequent trips to the library from a young age. Books saved you.

Your dad took you to work with him on Saturdays when it wasn’t too busy, even if he did always leave you to someone else to look after. He told you bedtime stories, often about his youth and there were always bad jokes.

There were family holidays, lots of them. All by car so if you could just learn to stop feeling sick in the car life would be so easier. It’s inconvenient to have to stop and it is such a weakness. Sleeping in the car may reduce your car sickness but you miss out on watching the miles roll by, holiday “banter” from your dad and family sing songs. Oh well. Holidays involved camping, walking and lots of fresh air. Scotland, Wales, Lake District. Been there and done that, in rain and occasional sun. The odd square of chocolate to help keep you going and proper walking boots and wet weather gear. Learn to walk faster and you’ll keep up. Don’t stop to admire the view unless it’s an approved stop or you’ll fall behind. What do you mean you don’t want to go?

Your mother took time out to take you to all the museums in London, introduced you to a life long love of theatre, Shakespeare, and Gilbert and Sullivan. Old films that you could share with your grandmother.

And then there are all those trips to your grandmother. How lucky you are to have a relative living in the sunny south of France who could show you a different way of life with lots of chat between you and your grandmother and your mother.Your dad would go off doing long walks so you can enjoy peace without him, as did your mother. Lots of swimming, eating, drinking and discovering interesting places. When it’s just you and your mum going you can sit in the front of the car and not want to throw up quite so much. Isn’t it surprising I was over 40 before I learned to drive!

Your other grandmother wasn’t quite so easy but even so, you learned to value your time with her. You wouldn’t have know your father had a brother if it wasn’t for her.

The, when you were seven you moved abroad. All of a sudden your idyllic life changed.

You were put into a French speaking school and had the amazing advantage of becoming fluent in a second language. Never mind that the other children thought you were weird and bullied you. What an opportunity!

You had the privileged advantage of growing up in another country, of learning to appreciate and value other cultures, other ways of life and to respect differences. It opened your eyes to a European, multi-cultural mindset that doesn’t really exist in England. You will appreciate that for the rest of your life.

Being bullied is character forming. It strengthens you and teaches you who you really are. You don’t need friends.

You turned down the opportunity to move to Germany and become trilingual. What a wimp you and your mother were for saying no. Would your father have consulted you both if he’d already decided to go?

You were lucky enough to notice your parents increasing affluence, despite (or because of) your father’s tight control of the purse strings. Never mind that you were never spoiled, that Christmases were always limited and you had to earn larger presents. At least you learned the value of money.

You spend so many years moaning about your childhood whilst failing to appreciate all the wonders it brought. It’s about time you grew up and moved on, leaving behind all this nonsense and appreciating what you were given. You were so lucky!

Yours,

Head

 

Dear head,

I hate you.

I hated my dad and had forgotten the sarcasm and mockery, some of which he no doubt passed onto 2sis. I spend so much time now feeling sorry for him that I’d forgotten or repressed how much I hated him and how small he made me feel.

I thought my mum saved me but actually letting me hang out with people twice my age did me no good in the long run and meant that I never felt comfortable with my peers. Her inability to stand up to my dad taught me about being passive and accepting one’s lot.I’m not sure that I ever believed she tried standing up to him at first.

I still feel guilty for not having more than a minimal relationship with my parents and in some ways I’m still protecting them from the truth, as I so often did as a child.

I was so miserable for so long and then I continued it by going out with men who repeated the sarcasm, the dictatorship, the dominance. I never stood a chance until I learned to be independent.

I am better than all this shit and would like to let it go but I spent my childhood and much of my adulthood suppressing my anger and hurt as it served no purpose and it has festered. I am working on it.

So dear head, thanks for all the privilege, but, fuck you.

Heart

 

Skills Recording and Assignment Done (tick!)

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impossibaleIt’s a fortnight since my last post and that seems to belong to another person.

We’re in the Easter holidays and the alarms have been switched off. I seem for some very weird reason to have more energy. I woke up early this morning and rather than just reading a few books and faffing around I got up and went for a walk.

I have done the skills recording, which was a dreadfully stressful Saturday, although alleviated by a collective trip to the pub afterwards. That was last weekend. Yesterday I completed my essay. You had to pick out at least 5/10 skills and point out your use of them. I had more problem in assigning remarks I’d make to the right skills that writing them up. There is considerable overlap between effective questioning, checking your understanding and demonstrating deeper empathy with tentative remarks. Although I may go through it again before the end of the holidays I would be happy to hand it in and that is an enormous relief that suggests I might enjoy the holidays more without it hanging over my head. This is the quickest I have completed an assignment. I have put in not a single quotation or reference. I am comforted by the fact that in my tutorial last week my tutor said that my first assignment was too academic and the second one more appropriate to counselling. I’m not sure whether I was actually pleased by that.

We now only have one assignment left and I might be really brilliant and start on it and I might do something else. This is on personal development over the year and as such it will be interesting to write as progress has not stopped.

My mood has certainly lifted. This is also due to 2son having visited another school, even if he’s still finding it hard to get up for his current school or go and visit another one. I had to make his Universal Credit appointment on my own which was to hand over his sick note. Sorry, that should be a fit note. My son did hand it to me saying “look, I’ve got a piece of paper that says I’m retarded”. Anyway, at least we’re moving on.

After a slight wobble I am definitely going for the person-centred diploma rather than the integrative one. Those continuing from this year will split in two but I’ve got one or two coming with me and that’s all I need. We’ll have to get in of course. Applications open next Monday.

There are lots of other little bits happening, some good, some not so good, but none of them matter.

 

 

A Successful Week

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The last fortnight has been intensely focused on 2son as he comes closer to accepting the need to move on to a another specialist school, one that can support him up to 25. I had visited this school in November and said I thought it would suit and it has taken 2son up to now to accept that he had to go see it.

I took him up for a day trip the previous week so he could have a look at the school and the accommodation and then took him up this week so he could stay for two nights and experience it. It went successfully in that he didn’t need to call me for support and he managed to join in. He needs to be pushed into a corner before he accepts that he has to get on with something and just do it. He was understandably incredibly anxious, as was I, but he was also very matter of fact about it. He didn’t say much about it afterwards, other than he thought it would do, which is really high praise.

I have been preparing for this event and worrying about it and trying to sort out domestic and work responsibilities. I cleaned out a U-bend for the first time last week but we still have a blocked sink, which is a trivial problem in itself but it adds to the list and serves of a reminder that something else will always happen to add to the list of boring stuff to sort out. Being away so much I oculdn’t call anyone out to deal with it.

1son is in Italy and hasn’t really been in communication much although his brothers report that he’s playing a lot of video games in the evening so that suggests he hasn’t got a job yet and is saving his money. I got an email from 3son’s teacher while I was away explaining that he is about to bugger up his remaining A level. I think he’s done with it all really and that despite wanting to do A levels he’s just no longer in the frame of mind to do them. Getting an apprenticeship would be one thing, but a job would also make sense. 4son is quietly getting on with his GCSEs and actually doing more than five minutes revision for them. He’s noticing the difference in results.

As usual, I’ve gone through all four children before turning to me. I still feel overwhelmed by the next stages for 2son: getting him to visit a second school and getting the local authority to fund what will be another expensive option. This is all supposed to be agreed by the end of this month and so far this year I’m on my second temporary case worker for SEN and no sense of how long this one will be in place.

I’m struggling with therapy and my therapist says she’s realised that she needs to dredge my childhood out of me as no set of questions, whether the TA that we’ve just done, or anything else is going to do it. I have a narrative about my childhood that I can deliver but I find it quite difficult to go beyond that and to really remember how I felt. I have blocked it up so much that not only is it difficult to unblock, but it is also difficult to recognise what I have blocked out. I need to do some serious digging. However I also am coming up to an intensive part of our course. Next weekend we do our skills recording and then we spend the Easter holidays analysing it and writing a full essay on it. I still haven’t fully listened to the last three skills sessions that we recorded and found it difficult enough to get our short essays done for this weeks which were only 500 words each. So I am feeling that there is currently not enough time in the day for me to do all the things I need to. I will get there but not without a fair dose of anxiety along the way. It does also make we wonder how I will cope with the workload requirements for the diploma, where the essays are double the length. Applications open in a few weeks. Several of my peers are looking at the integrative pathway rather than the purely person-centred and although I have little doubt that the latter is my choice I’m also not liking the idea of losing these people and having to start afresh.  It would be the wrong reason to go integrative but it has sewn doubt in my mind.

There you are then. It’s a messy write up but I am in a messy place. I’ve been away for four nights and that seems an awful lot. 4son has gone to school. 3son has gone at least once and I’m struggling to get back into the swing of being at home. And we’ve run out of toilet roll.

 

 

Differences Between Us

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Once again I left this until far too late but I least I wrote up my journal for the residential weekend, which came first, and my two short assignments, due in tomorrow. So finally I have time for this session which did leave me uncomfortable.

One of the questions we have to answer for our skills recording is what difference is there between listener and speaker and how do we overcome it. Two by two each pair identified their differences easily: old with young, career-driven and child-driven etc. When it  came to me however the only difference I had perceived was that given a situation outlined by my speaker, I would have acted differently. I said we had no differences that had been at all relevant within the previous sessions.  The tutor exclaimed”really” in a way that suggested she didn’t believe it and  asked us to name the obvious difference. Well I’m white and my partner is mixed race but we still hadn’t discussed anything that made that relevant. My partner did echo this completely. The tutor suggested that being colour-blind was not appropriate as it is necessary to be aware of our differences rather than pretending they don’t exist.

I found this really difficult to handle. I try to meet people and get to know them based on the person they are, not assume that visual differences necessarily mean anything. A person brought up in Ghana will have a very different outlook and identity compared to the same person born and bred in England. But they’re black either way (unless of course they’re white). I also dislike this attitude because when I first met my partner for our skills recording S, I was very quickly aware of several things we had in common as well as differences. When I meet someone I look to the common threads rather than the differences. The things you share are what bring two people together and once you’ve got some sort of relationship then you talk about your differences. Some people did bring up differences that made more sense: if you use very different language you need to check you are being understood; sometimes people use the same words with different meanings; differences of faith, socio-economic background, class as well as character traits like confidence, extrovert.

I think what the course is trying to say only it’s saying it badly is that we each have our own identity and that identity is forged by our upbringing, our circumstances, how we react to it all, and what we do with it all as an adult. All these experiences shape us differently and mean we have different identities. We must always beware labels. Just because we are both divorced doesn’t mean we had the same divorcing experience; everybody’s childbirth is a different story. Someone brought up on the street round the corner from me could have had a completely different childhood. The only thing to do is to look at the person in front of you and get to know who they are and set aside all and any labels, whether they represent differences or similarities.

After all that discussion and after I waffled as speaker, S and I decided to talk about our childhoods to let the differences out. The more time we spend together the more we realise how unnatural this skills recording will be as we will talk about a topic earlier agreed on, possibly that we’ve gone through already and we will try and leave pauses and make it easier for each of us to demonstrate our skills. I think most people are doing the same. This recording is a demonstration of our skills rather than an examination. If it wasn’t they would be better off putting us in front of people we hadn’t worked with all year and seeing how we got on. So there is something very artificial about it.

A Plan, Sort Of

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Beautiful-You-choiceHaving said I need a plan for where to go next, after having completed our TA questions, I think I have come up with one.

I was searching for self-awareness writing prompts, which came up with a lot of lists that were a little bit relevant but not very and then I remembered that I had tried this with Rosie Molinary‘s Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance some six years ago.

Giving you a prompt for every day for a year it offers a reflection to consider or an action to take. I only managed a dozen or so before I gave up but I am going to have another attempt. This time I’m going to use the second edition which I bought (she gifted me the first). When I have journaled previously I shall compare and contrast, hoping that I’ve grown in the last six years (which I know I have). Since I’ve now got two copies I’ve leant one to my therapist so we can discuss.

It’s a good plan but time for reflection has suddenly shrunk. We had our course residential weekend which went well but was exhausting and I haven’t finished post weekend reflections and write ups. We have two small essays due soon and two more big ones that both need preparation for. I do not feel at the moment that I have time enough to process the work we are doing and I feel that I am playing eternal catch up.

I had a day visiting 2son’s school where the snow didn’t permit me to visit him, closely followed by the residential weekend. I then spent three days with 2son taking him for a day trip to a potential new school. This is hugely exciting as I visited it in November and it’s taken us this long for him to be willing to visit. They have offered him an assessment next week when he stays for two nights and I have to be around in case of need so that’s next week devoted to him. I really had my doubts until he got into the car as to whether he would come or not. I didn’t know what we would do if he didn’t as he’s a bit big for me to throw over my shoulder and the staff aren’t permitted to be physical with him. So inside I was panicking all the way. I went to collect him and he was still in bed but he opened his eyes to me which was a relief and then he threw me out so he could get dressed. After five minutes I was clock-watching wondering how long it takes him to get dressed. Anyway it was all splendid. He visited the school and two houses, one on a par with his current house and one for the more independent student. Everyone was nice and he did ask lots of questions but seemed as relaxed with it all as he could be. So maybe I won’t worry quite as much about next week.

I did take my course work with me but failed to do any of it other than a bit of reading as I really wasn’t in the mood. Unfortunately I do not have the luxury of not being in the mood at the moment. Work is just being let go for these busy weeks.

So having decided that I’m going to use Beautiful You as a writing prompt I have yet to write #1. Here’s to the future.

Learning About Myself

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2018-03-02 15.10.17

Well it was certainly an interesting weekend. We have coalesced into a group of ten, half of whom smoke so a natural subdivision has formed. There is a feeling that we are down to the core group, that no one else will now leave before the end and that we have bonded.

The weekend in itself was a bit of a mess and we have moaned about it far too much in feedback and in PD after. It was supposed to happen in the Autumn term and be about breaking barriers and bonding, or some such. Since we’d already got that it was more about going over skills and doing our first recordings of skills practice. The sessions were badly arranged (I hadn’t realised until then that it was our tutor’s first teaching experience) and a very full on Saturday left us exhausted such that when we reassembled on Sunday after lunch our desire was to go home early, which we did. There was also an awful lot of tension before the weekend as to whether it would go ahead due to the snow (which in fairness was the biggest snow since the last biggest snow). Some of us did go for a lovely walk through the snow on Saturday, with some lovely untouched snow that crunched loudly with every footstep. We stayed up on Saturday night talking nonsense and drinking. We bonded some more.

We played several little ice breakers and warm ups that were interesting to participate in and to note the thought with which some of us had prepared them. I got assertive and I note that this is not the first time on the course that this has happened and it is as if a new voice is emerging that is confident to speak out. Our tutor was not going to participate in these little sessions and I insisted that she did, especially as she had joined with the first one that I led. She wanted to sit back and observe us and I said no, she was part of the group and had therefore to join in. My peers supported this viewpoint. As I write this I realise the similarities with my father writing about his mountain climbing experience but refusing to bond with the team members. The difference of course is that our tutor decided to join in and turned out to be incredibly competitive.

Our tutor’s opener was to invite us all to pick up a felt tip and then fill in the sentence our colour belonged to. My purple sentence was “The thing I am most proud of is…”. My immediate reaction was to fill it with “my children” which came as no surprise to many. What was surprising was how uncomfortable that made me feel. Stepford Wives sprang to mind with this image of the perfect housewife who cooks and cleans, is house proud, bakes for the cake sale and has no personality of her own. Being proud of being a good parent is not the same as being a proud housewife but for me the two are linked, no doubt a reflection on my mother’s attempt to be both. Being proud of my parenting and my sons is still new to me and I did find saying it out loud difficult but I hadn’t expected the housewife side effect. On discussing this with my therapist she suggested that what I should be most proud of is me. She is of course right and it is about time I acknowledged that the journey I have gone through, am still going through and the immense changes that have occurred. If last year was about accepting that I have done well by my children, this year should be about acknowledging that I have done well by me. In addition, I have to write an assignment on my personal development over the last year so will need to reflect on it for that anyway. I had also suggested to school that they reflect with 2son on the changes he’s made since he got there so it is a recurring theme.

I played a simple little game that my children had learned when they did their drama sessions some years ago. It was about feeling the mood of the room an sensing the quality of the silences. It’s a game to be played with some consideration and I was really quite annoyed that no one tried it seriously and there was laughter throughout. All subsequent games played were much lighter.

One of the games that stumped me was a person would offer four choices about herself, “my favourite colour is…” “I have never…” and you rush to the corner of the choice you think is correct. That was fine but my mind went absolutely blank when I had to come up with my own four choices about something. I needed everyone else to shout out ideas to me before going for type of books. I find it so difficult to put myself out there in any shape or form. I could have selected favourite colour or something equally innocuous that gave nothing away or something deeper that was revealing. But my mind went blank and I realise that this too is a hangover from childhood. It is not a defence mechanism as such but an avoidance mechanism whereby my brain simply shuts down when it fears ridicule from an inappropriate answer. I can remember the exact same feeling when Mme Van de Steen would ask me a question in French class and I knew that she would pick my answer to pieces so I would sit there and refuse to answer. That same blank feeling came across to me and I fully recognised it. It also matches many a conversation with my father when I would struggle to explain something he couldn’t understand or when I would just sit there passively waiting for it to be over. I only recently realised that this was a pattern. Playing Trivial Pursuit at Christmas I couldn’t come up with a word I knew that I knew. I cannot do pub quizzes because even when I know the answer it won’t surface. I’m not good at thinking of words which often reside on the tip of my tongue. One of the ways I am trying to work with this is to do the Guardian quick crossword (now available on the app in a very neat form). I’m trying to not bother about completing it or feeling stupid for not knowing answers but to simply exercise the power of recall and bring the answers to the surface in the hope that this will help break the pattern.

Lastly, and I realised I haven’t even mentioned the work and practice skills recording we did, we spent the weekend in a convent. I did not realise that would be so triggering. I suspect I should write a whole piece on faith but I have a mix of negative and positive experiences like many I suppose. What I found really irritating was the amount of propaganda or publicity about god. A great number of poor artwork decorated the halls depicting one saint or another, Jesus surrounded by his followers etc. None of them were attractive or had any artistic merit. There was lots of reading material left everywhere although surprisingly no bibles in the bedrooms. I almost got saddled with a small bedroom which had a cross hanging over the bed which would not have worked. The nuns were perfectly nice and helpful but I felt beholden to them in a way I wouldn’t staying at a B&B even though the services offered are very similar. It’s that feeling of being on your very best behaviour as you would with a grandparent when you’re very young. On a very practical basis I resent some of my money going towards to the church in payment, however little.