When Coaching gets it Wrong

My first introduction to American football happened as a result of Grid Iron on Ch4. I was already an enthusiast of Basketball and Football became a new sport to invest time with and learn about. I enjoyed the UK based commentators attempt to over explain the rules and various decisions that occurred throughout the game. This was in the late 80’s.

Choice

Due to Colin Kaeparnick’s non signing with a team last season I chose not to watch any NFL games. I am vaguely aware of the winners of last season’s Super Bowl but am not as up to date with trades and new signings for this season. Netflix and Amazon have been my go to’s.

Offering my NFL starved eyes initially Friday Night Lights – then Last Chance U, All or Nothing, Undefeated, Coach Snoop and QB1. Marching Orders has been a late addition to my TV watching that I have been fascinated by. The show has little to do with football as they perform for themselves and in competition with other bands. Each Last Chance U features a marching band intro and I have been impressed with their discipline and timing.

Defining synchronicity and Timing and Discipline

Netflix show Marching Orders

Losing It

In my experience great leadership can lead teams to phenomenal successes and some devastating defeats. As a former Basketball Coach I recognise the want for excellence from all, all of the time. The reality is that excellence and perfection are not always possible, no matter how much it is wanted, worked for or at times wished for. A number of years ago I had a moment at a London Youth Games tournament when for 30 seconds I lost it with my basketball team. I lost sight of what we had come to do, play well, play for enjoyment and play as a team. The Hurricanes had worked so very hard to get to the games and the 1st game had been a great example of what I enjoyed about coaching. The first game was a narrow defeat but they had gained learning from the experience and looked to have fun throughout the game. I had felt that they were ready to take on any other team and play well.

A meme that inspires

Friday Night Lights Coach Taylor’s advice.

1st Quarter Defeat

The second game out they were losing to another team within the first few minutes of the 1st quarter by 15 – 2. Stunned, appalled and amazed at the swiftness the other team from Westminster were dispatching us with, I called a time out. I wanted to rally my team and interrupt the flow of the game. In the time out my words were incendiary and raw coming from a place of hurt, anguish, disappointment and guilt. My ire was intolerable and according to the team lifted the roof on Crystal Palace’s main hall and painted it an array of colours. My several words of profanity put me in reach of Last Chance U’s Buddy Guy and Jason Brown coaches.

Story Book

The need to perform well and win against insurmountable odds must be a chip that gets inserted into a coaches sub consciousness at some point during their lives. The Hurricanes had trained well. The drills we had covered over the months leading up to the London Youth Games I and my co coach believed would provide them with chances to play well, be versatile, flexible on offence and decisive on defence. The pain of disappointment came as I realised that for some this was to be their last youth games. That their Basketball playing potential was not going to be realised that day, or any other where I were to coach them. The reminder of the story book ending slipped out of sight that afternoon. But life as always continues.

Last Chance Who?

Last Chance University Season 3

2 Shows and Out

Season 3 of Last chance U has underwhelmed me. I enjoyed the first season, it offered a behind the scenes look at another coaches habits and team building capability. The Editing of the  episodes watched may have miss represented Coach Brown’s input with this season’s show.

In season 2, Buddy’s past crept in and derailed his attempts at claiming inter state championship victory. A punishing disappointment that he seemed unable to let influence his decisions and mood. Coach Brown in season 3 appears to have not read the coaches charter. I find it difficult to watch his players be screamed at repeatedly with no information to guide their overall improvement. The coaching staff do not get off lightly either as they are viciously hurled abuse at. My mental health antennae have turned to on and I am starting to see Coach Brown’s ire as unsavoury and dehumanising.  I had not foreseen that such poor management, poor leadership and an unstable personality type could rip a team apart as resolutely as Coach Brown’s had.

The Islander

I am dismayed at the latest instalment of Last Chance U, yes it was never supposed to be as neat and as sewn up as Friday Night Lights, however I held out for something redeemable. A quality to the calibre of Coach Brown that young men were willing to put their hearts minds and bodies on the line for. Initially the spark and committment and energy was there but as pressure mounted Coach Brown started to retreat into a concentric circle pattern that had him be isolated, unlikeable and lacking connectivity. Good leadership drives hard, has unrelenting standards, knows how far to push and be pushed and then offer to those who they work with all the accolades and praise when they achieve what they are due. Marching Orders band director Donovan Wells is a great example of a person who is willing to have vision and inspire others to achieve it and not lose the respect of those he is working with. Once the likeability and the ‘I will run through that wall for you coach’ is gone, the team is lost and the game is over before it even began.

The leader of the field team

Quarter Back #1

Leadership

To lead one should be willing to listen to all voices especially those that dissent. An element in disagreement  may perhaps with revision could support attainment of goals desired. I feel that a good leader, coach, counsellor, mentor, should be willing to be led. Leaders cannot know all, do all or be all. At times it would be best to sit still, listen and learn.

Some Losses

The Hurricane members that I am still in contact with have forgiven my ire and curse words of that then. I am thankful of their resilience and patience with me. It has become a “remember when Coach Mike…”

Laughing plays an important part in dislodging, dissolving and supporting growth. I saw little laughter in last Chance U season 3, unless at the expense of Coach Brown. I am happy that I didn’t permanently damage the Coach player relationship with my team. I lost my temper and not the team.

Some losses are too great…

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This One’s for You…

Tactical Empathy

After an engaged conversation with Luke Roberts he shared that he had gained a number of interesting ideas from Chris Voss’ Never Split the Difference. One area that Luke felt could have been explained better was the idea of Tactical Empathy. Luke Roberts the MD of Resolve consultants supports organisations including prison institutions to work on conflict resolution and restorative approaches that support positive outcomes for individuals and the organisation overall.

Conflict and Negotiation

As a hostage negotiator Chris offers a number of useful tactics that he was able to use throughout his career. The tactics he employed secured the release of people held hostage by negotiating from a point of reducing distance between hostage taker and those negotiating. A reduction happens as a result of gaining an understanding of the wants of the hostage takers. Then those wanting the safe release of those imprisoned can literally see what parts of the jigsaw can be moved around. I imagine that conflict resolution is a similar experience supporting individuals/groups to arrive at a solution where more is gained as a result of attempting to work through a solution that both sides are content with.

Empathy

Empathy is formed from a willingness to understand, emotionally experience and recognise for self what the other is experiencing or has lived through. From a counselling perspective empathy is a fundamental point for the therapeutic work to grow from.

Tactics

The experience of using skills and techniques to arrive at an advantageous position. As a former basketball player/coach tactics and plays were used to work out an advantage for an offensive or a defensive situation. These tactics were used to earn my team a number of favourable outcomes that included; scoring, gaining turn overs, having players on the opposing team foul out, playing full or half court presses, interrupting a charge with a timeout. These techniques and tactics were used to win the game.

Tactical Empathy

Tactical empathy happens to be an inspired way of thinking when working with others. I base my understanding on our human responses to reciprocity. If someone were to; offer a colleague a compliment, support on a project, make a cup of tea and or buy them a cup of coffee. A loop is opened. Usually the response from that colleague is when next an opportunity presents the beneficiary from an exchange will generally aim to reciprocate. Closing the loop. The loop of gain and loss being opened and then closed can support healthy trusting relationships amongst individuals and teams.

In the case of a hostage taking situation or in conflict resolution – the attempt whilst negotiating is to listen using empathy. One is listening not just to the words but also the emotion of the other in the negotiation. There will be difficult parts to the discussion where the person being tactically empathic will use their ability to hear the words and recognise the emotions of what the person who is sharing their aims and wants.

Reciprocity

Often a moment during discussion arrives because we are hearing the emotion of the other person. Responding to the emotion and by naming them could develop statements like;

‘I hear that you are talking about X, am I right in saying that you are feeling Y too?’

The other person in the conversation once they believe that understanding and trust has been built will likely offer an insight where reciprocity could be built. It is here that the collaboration or clear request can be asked of them.

They may say something like ‘I feel that you really understand where I am coming from, how can we work this out?’

The aim here has been achieved. They are showing a willingness to not only listen to an idea of yours but also the idea of collaboration has been receptively achieved. Generally the idea of gifting another opens a door to successfully resolve a conflict or negotiate a solution that works for more than just one. Fist

The gift of time cannot be understated here – as well as a laser like focus to achieving a solution for both parties. Using tactical empathy and supporting another until they are able to reciprocate is the outcome that generates solutions that feel as though the win is collaborative creative and beneficial for all involved.

Links

2 Guys on Your Head podcast discuss reciprocity http://kut.org/post/psychology-reciprocity

Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

The Structure of Magic – Richard Bandler and John Grinder. A book that looks to support growth in an understanding of the use of language.

Swimming with Sharks

The David and Goliath of MS

Like a Shark Bite Managing Multiple Sclerosis

2018 appears to be the year of growth change and acknowledgment. The year has offered unimaginable highs of experiences and a number of discomforts.

Malcolm and Goliath

I had a profound conversation with a supervisor about the Goliath that MS is. I described it’s ability to make me immobile, incapable of maintaining my balance, fall over my own feet, the indescribable fatigue and the effects of the dreaded brain fog and non-acceptance of the illness. As an African Caribbean man the illness presents as a continuing battle of identity.

Here I would like to highlight that Malcolm Gladwell has forever changed my perspective on the story of David and Goliath. David a trained marksman and Goliath a lumbering short sighted oaf who simply was nimbly struck down by a swift footed and clever assassin. For the purpose of the blog I’ll stick to the original telling of the story.

MS I shared is like a Gargantuan beast of a disease that strikes at will and takes no prisoners. It is merciless and has no rules of engagement. It strikes and I succumb to it’s malware like intentions like an affected computer system.

The Great White

I was invited to think of MS as a great white shark during the conversation. One can be swimming away in reasonably deep water blissfully oblivious. Under the surface of the water and at a time when one least expects it a crushing bite can unsuspectingly ruin that hard won peace. The shark attack bites and bites hard. There is seldom chance of escape, or hope of appeasement. There simply is the possibility of relapse and further degeneration as the disease kicks into a more progressive form. MS has no known cures. Rest, diet and a host of vitamins including vitamin D, B complex’s, C and A can have a supportive impact. I am currently trialing CBD oil and will write a more informed blog about it’s use.

Walking a Line

The conversation with the supervisor was unique as they have suffered with the illness for almost twice as long as I, and recognise the disastrous impact it has on mood, diet, energy levels, travel, work, friendships, career options and overall well-being. This was the first conversation I have had with a veteran of the disease. I have another friend that I haphazardly talked with about the disease, but they recently moved to New York city. There is something welcoming and nurturing about finding others who are walking a line that looks and feels like the one you are walking.

A New Story

GoliathThe summary of the conversation with the supervisor was that when all seemed to be going well with my career a blow by the hand of fate has paused my star’s ascent. In a moment that feels  both gruesome unkind and resentful my body is attacking itself – unwittingly I am destroying me.

No Running Away From

In That Thing You Seek I sarcastically noted of the gift of MS. I have wanted to kick it’s ass and prove to myself and it that I am not to be cowed by it, deflated by it, undone by it, denied by it. I have lost the ability to run (I used to love to run), have boundless energy, lost my sense of balance, have leg cramps and back spasms, lose my train of thought mid speech: mid-sentence, lose myself to a foggy mind, make miss steps trip and fall, no more shimmy shimmy ya on a Bball court with my sons or with my old Gladiators or Hurricanes basketball teams I once coached.

The Sharp End

Now I realise that this is a war of attrition. The numerous days ahead will be hard won battles just to make the what was a ten-minute walk home now a 15-20 minute one from my local train station. It’s the unseen losses and defeats that I feel will cause the most pain. Turning my imagination over to that uncertainty of a whirling dervish is a torture at this point I will not spend much time with.

For me now it’s a case of joining the MS society, locating a mental health professional to discuss the impact on my self-aspect, accessing the support a great many have offered (I have been too stubborn and too proud in accepting) and begin re-modelling for another type of future.

The last words from my supervisor are that of “I don’t think I do accept this MS stuff actually. Rather, on reflection, I think I treat it like that old adage of keep your friends close and your enemies closer still.”

For me it is a recognition that MS has me and I, like a shark bite, have it!

Is Counselling a Good Thing?

Argentine Tango

If it leads to dance… Possibly

‘As Counsellors and Mental Health professionals our role could be seen as Judge Jury and Executioner I shared with a group of Introduction to Counselling students at University of Greenwich in March’

The idea came as an afterthought to a slide which shared the below idea…

Psy-professional dominance

“…the psychiatrist, along with his psychiatrically orientated satellites, has now usurped the place once occupied by the social reformer and the administrator, if not indeed the judge…”

(Wotton,1959.pp.17)

Judge

The idea that we do not judge our clients for their actions, thoughts and circumstances of their lives is mostly I believe true. However as therapists we do make assessments and with that comes some degree of judgement.

How willing are we as therapists to engage with clients and the narratives they share of their lives’? By proxy we are judging! For me the idea is an uncomfortable reality, however it undoubtedly appears as a truism. The wise, and flexible in thought Irvin Yalom in his book ‘Loves Executioner’ shared views about 10 clients he worked with. Wherein lies sometimes excruciatingly honest judgement from him about clients. For example: Penny in the chapter The Wrong One Died was so affected by her past that elements of it were forgotten. Penny’s story stood out for me primarily because her ascent was incredible.

I did however make judgements, about her realisations and towards the end of her story the surprise was tear provoking, moving and surprising as she began to accept what therapy has been able to deliver. A truth well hidden (suppressed) – once seen (recognised) and the pain associated with it had chance to be released the experience offered Penny chance to grow!

As therapists we hold a non-judgemental line with our clients, that attempts to not judge choices of clients but circumstances that they are found within. To this end we judge vicariously choices made and the set of circumstances clients find themselves in. Penny is a great example of judgement by proxy.

The Jury

As Jury we sit, stand, walk and run with clients for hours, inviting them to make more informed choices about themselves. The deliberations seem never ending, the 2nd guessing, the moving ever backward, sideways, and forward before the breakthrough and release. We as therapists prepare the case, a case, our case, formulate the reasoning behind the whys of what lead circumstances to be as the client finds themselves embroiled within, and prepare, re prepare, and wait and hold and offer possible other ways of seeing a set of circumstances.

What we wait for is the lights to come on and the internal glow of re-framing, reclaiming and enlightenment. As an integrative therapist, these moments are worth the wait and the clients patience, as a testament to their resilience and outward growth. They are hard fought for – similarly in the jury’s quarters where arguments ensue, the fight and wrestle for a client is an internal and elemental battle. As therapists we enjoy the battle and the multiple defeats as I view that just further along, the small reprieves and then the striking of gold await. Leaving the jury’s quarters with a verdict whilst hard won, are so so precious.

The Final Act

Executioners execute and we do, for we let die old ideas a client holds of themselves, relationships, careers, family, money, their pasts, identity, food, love, self-esteem, weight, culture, age, sex, and country. We cease the battle once the client begins a journey anew – renewed.

Faith in self – restored, assuages the pain of growth. I have been fortunate enough to witness the act of resilience many times. This is the therapists chalice. This be the raison d’etre of why we do what we do. We resolve something with each struggle, every fight, every loss and every victory. As long as we remain true of ourselves, (congruent) to the work, to the process and to the client – we as a team ultimately win.

A brief tale of The Argentine Tangoist. I had a client a few years ago that I enjoyed working with. They were a trained psychotherapist and could share with me the approaches I was using to support them as we worked. I viewed the work like a daring dance! The dance was like none other that I had been involved with before. It was quick and slow and brief and intricate. I was lost to the spin at times as were they. The work with the Tangoist lasted just over 10 sessions and then as quickly as the work started it ended. Poof! Just like that over. It was chess of the highest order (I am a beginner) and I lost and won and was amazed by their skill. The sense of growth and loss has become a new narrative of mine. One that I have a grapefruit sensation – lingering. As executioner we too can be opened up to the unknown. Here too lies learning…

I have clients where the battle has raged for a while and then peace bursts forth once a realisation or a truth is found. Undeniably the light is perceived by the client – growing from obscurity to clarity and thus, battle weary but ready, strike new ground with renewed faith in their victory. After many years of searching as an artist, poet, basketball coach, youth worker, learning mentor: Counselling and Psychology found and claimed me.

There is something about this work I love – for it blends art with science and the unknown.

Baking: Failure – Success

The Journey into Counselling 2014-06-01 10.39.03

In May 2015 I presented my counselling journey to 3rd year students who were coming to the end of their MSc in Therapeutic Counselling at University of Greenwich. I was invited to speak with the students by the then course director Victoria Alexander.

Since completing the course in 2012 I had wondered if I would ever receive the esteemed call to present my counselling journey to students. Speaking as an Alumni, I imagined would be a mark of success. It was – but not in a monetary sense. I had, at last, arrived as a mental health professional and that was worth acknowledging in the least for myself. From completing the course, it had taken 3 years to get to a point where I felt I had ARRIVED.

When I was a 3rd year student I looked forward to meeting alumni who had completed the course before me and listening to their stories. In 2011 I was expectant of listening to personal stories that would inspire me to have incredible success as a counsellor.

Pinpoint moments

During my time on the Greenwich course there were a number of moments that stand-out. My Interview with John Lees, the first day of the MSc course, attending art therapy/drama therapy experiences, realising that I had adapted from one approach of counselling – person centred, to being an integrative counsellor. This event happened during my second year of the MSc and I will write about Laos (not the clients name) in a later Blog.

Other memorable moments include; my first counselling client that attended their appointment. I practiced in a GP surgery in SE London. My 2nd counselling placement at a Prison and my first client once there. Failing a submission piece during the second year of the course and having to repeat a piece of work and resubmit, oh the shame! Entering the 3rd year of the course, engaging in a difficult conversation with a lecturer – John Nuttall on a delicate issue, completing year 3 and looking towards the top of Canary Wharf Tower on an evening in June from where I live in Lee, and whispering to myself we’ve done it, acknowledging the support of my wife throughout the three years.

The presentation

With the group of students met in 2015, I shared the beginning of my journey as a youth worker – basketball coach, which lead to me becoming a learning mentor and then to the world of counselling.

I spoke as though there appeared to be a plan, but that would be me being presumptuous. The path to become a counsellor opened up the further I travelled along its over grown route. With each move there appeared to be a logical next step which developed, honed and remodelled my sense of enquiry. The book by Scott M. Peck A Road Less Travelled highlights the difficulties and treasures of working in the field of psychology. I happened to read the book at least 10 years before I began my training.

Creative practice

At the end of my presentation a number of questions were asked in relation to what life is like now as a counsellor/mental health practitioner. I was able to share that for me as a professional the experience is of being creative. I shared that I had attempted to bake and bring to the presentation a sourdough bread. The bread was to be used as a symbol. Sharing the growth and development of the journey I had undertaken. I was asked by a student ‘what the lack of being able to produce a bread represented?’ My response was for them ‘to think about my lack of bread and get back to me.’ In truth I did not have a good enough answer and used wit to escape the students question.

Bread = therapy

I have been working on my sourdough culture for a little over three years. It began when I received a book for Christmas by Dan Lepard the ‘Hand Baked Loaf’ in December 2011. I bought a few Kilner jars and started as Dan had suggested. I found it difficult to throw out much of the leaven on the 6th-7th day as he suggests, but overcame my reluctance to discard hard won yeast for the greater good of the bread. The yeast culture has been successful in helping me to produce a range of breads, pizza bases, focaccia and pain aux chocolate in the 3 years I have been baking in this way. I have also had a number of failures where the leaven has not produced bread that has not risen or has not had the aeration (big air holes) that a good sourdough should have.

Getting it wrong

A better response to the student’s question of my failure to produce a bread for the group, could have been to discuss the reality of failure or of not being successful when making interventions or assessments with clients. Whilst failure is an uncomfortable experience the effect of not reaching a particular point with a client can also be useful in providing information.

Getting things wrong can be of use for a therapist. I learn the strength of the alliance between me and the client, and the resilience of the therapeutic engagement. In most cases there is a point for reflection. “Was that interpretation useful now, for them?” “Would a senseate reflection be of use here, how did that story go, could it be of use, now?” I also get to refocus, so as to aim interpretations close to the person’s growing sense of awareness most of the time.

The other outcome is the person being supported finds a way forward which informs them of their resilience and that their counsellor doesn’t have all the answers!

Sharing concepts of not getting it right in therapeutic encounters with clients, with the student in question, could have helped to deliver the analogy of not producing my bread. ‘My bread is similar to working with clients, I don’t always get it right. With time, patience, be willing to accept the failure (lack of understanding, miscomprehension, miss timed interpretation) as a reason for the therapeutic work at times missing the mark, and continuing to offer support for successful outcomes.’ This is what I would liked to have said.

The future

Continuing after a mis-step in the counselling contract can result in a better result in therapy. For me and sourdough breads the aim is to create great artisan breads like those at Gails Blackheath, Brickhouse Bakery, and E5 Bake House. Alchemy occurs in therapy and can be achieved with bread.

I am glad that I have pursued the effort of crafting a good leaven that will produce great bread. Without the many failures I could not have appreciated the inevitable successes.

Belonging v Fitting In

Confusion 2015-05-25 15.32.10

There are many reasons that I have wanted to write a regular blog. Mostly to share a perspective on things I experience from bewildering and conflicting perspectives. These perspectives include myself as a thinker, a past time of mine since I was a young man.

  • A black male psychotherapist, three words that cause me to pause and reflect on the meanings that are associated with each and how these three words interact with each other and with the social fields I come into contact with on a daily basis. I suspect a blog about being a black male psychotherapist is to be written in time.
  • Being a father of 2 young black boys the responsibility I am presented is to support their development in being able to simply just be. With Janelle Monáe’s Hell you Talmbout I recognise that my involvement with my sons’ lives is of primary importance and one in which I am invited to be an educator, coach, listener, artist, co conspirator, chef, journey planner and Doctor. Ta Nehesi Coates speaks and writes well on this subject in his book Between the World and Me.
  • Some of the other roles I engage with are; as a member of a mental health organisation working alongside probation and with service users, as a husband, as a lover of jazz, a reader, a former interior designer, youth worker, comic book reader, movie goer, longboard rider, podcast listener, basketballer and coach, friend, walker, facilitator and multiple sclerosis sufferer. This list is not exhaustive and there are probably at least 5 or more subjects I could add.

Fitting in, Belonging

For this blog I wanted to discuss an awareness I sensed but hadn’t fully brought into full consciousness until I came across it whilst reading Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. One of the concepts she was able to describe was a simple concept of either fitting in or belonging. At the time of reading ‘Daring Greatly’ in Oct – Nov 2015 I was experiencing what it meant to either ‘belong’ or to fit in.

2014 into 2015

Working for a large organisation with a group of people one knows vaguely who each have slightly differing roles and responsibilities to yours, there can be points when you are offered a chance to either fit in, or if lucky to choose to belong. When I joined the organisation I attempted to go with the flow and fit in.

Fitting in often does not cause great offence to others ‘no boats are rocking’. Perhaps in oneself the effect is of losing grip on what is important – oneself and one’s reality. Losing sense of oneself can be unsettling and what could be worse is not realising that your way is lost until you are saying and doing things that you don’t recognise.

In December 2014, I left an experience of belonging to a staff team in a high security prison and joined the organisation I currently work with in January 2015. The mental health team I left consisted of Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Nurses, Counselling Psychologists, counsellors , an EMDR counsellor who was also my line manager and supervisor, Occupational  Therapists, and counsellors on placement.

HMP Belmarsh’s mental health team was a robust co-operative, co-ordinated group of professionals that met every week to discuss mental health referrals. It took me 2 years to get used to the quick fired nature of the referral process and dissemination of potential clients to departments within the mental health team. In the last 2 years of working at Belmarsh I gained a sense of how valuable these differences amongst the mental health team were as Social workers would have a different perspective to Psychiatrists or CPNs another opinion to Occupational Therapists and counsellors to counselling psychologists.

With these differing opinions in relation to treatment options, barriers for individuals seeking treatment were overcome and mostly resolved. The experience I had was of belonging to a staff team who were willing to work together for the greater good of those seeking mental health support. I was able to recognise that differing viewpoints can be supportive rather than only negative, that can appear to slow or block progress.

A reminder

Whilst training as a counsellor 2008-2011 I had experiences that were of not being able to neither fit in nor belong. I was one of a few minority ethnic people on the course and one of only 3 males that completed year 1. Struggling alongside 18 other students on a bewildering counselling MSc course, I would have thought would generate a sense of belonging or camaraderie. My experience was that of being outside of a group of people who were able to exist in a quasi-understanding of fitting in with each other.

I made a choice in October 2015, which was supported by Daring Greatly, that fitting in was not going to be how I operate whilst working with others. Belonging was a better coat to wear. I had been in a number of previous working experiences pre Belmarsh were belonging was a part of the fabric of the organisation.

Currently I find myself reminded of my training to be a counsellor and the discomfort of attempting to fit in amongst a student populace that I was to belong to, but was different from.  The knowledge of being an outsider from a group is not a new one and has the possibility of offering me an internal conflict which can lead to personal growth.

Reality

The reality is that the experience of belonging or fitting in will repeat in whatever work context I find myself involved with. The interesting thing for me is that I will attempt to gain a sense of belonging wherever I work. The cost of attempting to fit in I find too great. It’s the experience of not sharing your perspective on subjects you care about, of fearing that you will be ostracized by people you work with, finding that you stand out and being uncomfortable with this.

Belonging

Being amongst a group of others I would find it important to relate and talk about any number of subjects on a number of different levels and not be judged or ridiculed in my sharing. Depending on a person’s background and family of origin the aim could be to gain a sense of belonging similar to that of a family system. Perhaps without some of the negative aspects of a family group. For me it’s about the feelings that come with the experience of recognising that one belongs. Which feels very different to fitting in.

I would liken belonging to hearing a favourite song by chance whilst out doing something innocuous. The song I would be happy to hear would be Ooh Child by the Five Fairsteps and something like love spreads throughout your system like you’re in a hot bath.

My experiences of belonging are many-fold, for example attending my first BAATN mens group and mentioning that unlike Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man I WAS being seen and heard by the group, and that I also belonged. Coaching basketball in a number of settings was the epitome of gaining a sense of containment attachment and belonging for every team I coached and for all that attended. My sense of the Experiential Group even though I was the facilitator, I felt part of the group not apart from it, lastly, when my family get together we express our love in volume but each member receives that warm bath feeling…

Belonging.

Daring Greatly

Admitting defeat.

Ignore

Be so

In September 2015 I spent a few days reading a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly. The book offers the idea that owning our vulnerabilities makes us stronger, or better at not fearing our lives. Daring greatly as an idea has struck several chords for me as I have lived in fear of discovering that my disability might prevent me from doing my job well enough.

I have spent the last 6 years developing my craft as a counsellor and Mental Health professional; working in the community in private practice, at a University as a Student Mentor, in a prison as a counsellor / psychological wellbeing practitioner and as a Forensic Mental Health Practitioner for Together. I thought I should aim to be better than good. Better than I thought that the disability would somehow stop me from being. In the profession this type of thinking is identified as over compensating. I can put my hands up own that I do that.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. It is a disease I have struggled to live with for 6 years since being diagnosed in 2011. I can remember the day that my doctor at Moorefields Eye Hospital reluctantly told me. I felt huge waves of anxiety lift. I dreaded that I might have a terminal disease like brain cancer. I might not be bright enough for that. I was also intensely angry and sad. As I imagined that my dreams of being a brilliant professional had dimmed due to my understanding of what Multiple Sclerosis is.

My struggle has been, I have not wanted to admit to myself or anyone that, I have an incurable disease. A disease that has enabled me to take a good look at myself and reflect on the past 30 years of my life. Over the years there were signs of the disease which hinted at a serious nervous system malfunction, that just wasn’t identified after multiple misdiagnoses. The most frightening was at 22-23 I suffered with a 6 month experience of the left side of my body going into spasm after exerting myself. A doctor I saw identified that I might have an inflammation in my lower back that flared up when over stimulated this part of my body. He requested that I hold my breath through these episodes and either sit or lie down until the spasms had passed. The humorous thing for me was this was a sign of MS and it was missed but his advice worked.

I looked into the mirror on a particular morning in October 2015 and said to myself “I am going to have a great day.” On this particular day I struggled to make it to work on time and tripped and fell hard on pavement, partly due to the fact that I was rushing and partly because of my balance and co-ordination and tiny calculations in gait and flagstone pavement height that I struggle to compensate for felled me. This morning was not what I had in mind as a “Great day”. But a day is 23 hours and 59 minutes and 59 seconds long, I just had to wait for the rest of the day to unfold. It did get better.

For 6 years I have wondered about not letting my secret out as I had not wanted to give others insight about my weakness. But as the book ‘Daring Greatly’ describes, admitting where you are weak is a strength that is indescribable for what it offers: release – a sense of liberation. It feels like for a long time I have lived in a cell with a high barred window. I could hear and smell the seasons change and birds chirping, but the scant amount of daylight that entered my cell was not enough for me to grow strong. I have hidden my illness as a result of how I believed others who may never meet me might judge me. Now I am beyond the cell, and striding into sunlight.

On the day in October where I said to myself “Have a great day”, I attended training at the head office of the organisation where I work. The training was on motivational interviewing and I was invited to share a real story with a colleague about something I had wanted to stop doing. I mentioned that I wanted to stop living in fear of this secret of my MS secret getting out. My colleague EK allowed me to think about what changes I could implement. Owning my flaws, my weakness, bearing to be vulnerable could actually be my biggest ‘to do’.

It scares me as to what this may mean for me and my family, my business and my future. However I already realise that by writing this and then sharing this a huge boulder that I have been pushing much like Sisyphus is now gone. I no longer need to hide it. I have accepted that I have a disability and it does not define my star’s ascent.