Ubuntu, Recovery – White Supremacy

My Summer season of writing has definitely taken a bent towards topics that involve racism writ large. In this post I am looking to establish ways forward, beyond White supremacy. The system corrupt and broken is to be erased, like a Buddhist Monk’s manadala, in the rivers of time and re-written. For me this onward journey is about revolution. Those who identify with a Frail, Pale, Male, Stale (F.P.M.S.) aesthetic and outlook on life are to be discarded like the idea of the baby and the bath water. The infant, the tub and the water we are all swimming in is diseased, poisoned and grows corrupt crop.

Light in Illness
Another way of living – benefitting all – makes sense to begin insisting on. I have had these ideas since I was about 4 years old. Sick with a bad cold having an out of body experience, where I felt like I was experiencing what those who take the mushroom Hiawatha report. A sense of overwhelming love, compassion and connectedness with all. Taking time away from the machinery of work can support learning in a way that grows awareness. I have spent the last month, August, unwinding, watching a wide variety of TV shows and movies, as well as reading and listening to podcasts. The most recent book ‘Work Won’t Love You Back’ by Sarah Jaffe that I will attempt to summarise in a following blog, has stretched my appreciation of the month spent taking time back.

Light Mandala

Capitalism kills
If the organisation of work is ultimately a largely European concept. A system turning humans into labor devices. Transforming raw materials into something profitable, for other human’s consumption and monetary wealth. Can we then, identify the paucity and fallibility of both work and capitalism overall? It will take for all, to dismantle the current appeal of getting (buying) more, working more, earning less and feeling bad about how little we possess. Other’s  (F.P.M.S.) largely benefit from those at the lower tiers of the system. Tirelessly working at pulling from the hearth both product and illness. The whole system completely depends on those at the very bottom of the pyramid to support the shaky construct.

Strangled
Ingenuity, time, creativity and sensitivity are mangled lost and drained from the human who is tethered to the machine of work. What are the alternatives? We need to work to pay the bills, the mortgage, clothe and feed the children and the family, to make peace, or take our piece from life. How can much be enjoyed whilst one hand is in the noose tied to the unequal system and the other tied to hypocrisy lies and corruption? For how much longer can the system continue to rip the essence of life from bodies that are on the planet for so much more?

Mis-direct
I ended last weeks post by inviting critical thinking. By becoming analytical of all we experience and are investing time with, we can start to imagine and build something different. One of the films I have enjoyed watching that then linked to a few other Netflix documentaries was the Biggest Little Farm, Kiss the Ground and Fantastic Fungi. The book The Hidden Life of Trees (still to be read!) shows how symbiotic, integrated natural systems all support the living organism to function. What has caused humanity to lose sight of our role of our interconnectedness and stewardship of the resources our planet has? Did seeking financial gain, interrupt our curiosity playfulness and wonder? Did capital gains limit our human potential and wanderlust. Some who are (F.P.M.S.) appear to know how to control and manipulate the masses with ever increasing ideas of potential risk, loss, and death. Queue: War, Pestilence, Famine, and Death.

Ride Side Saddle
The alternative to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse could be Emotional Intelligence: Critical Thinking, Emotional Awareness, Compassion focused teaching and learning. To move beyond a persecutor, victim rescuer triangle. We can live at the space of the observer. From a position of remaining compassionately aware, choices to behave differently whilst living can be applied. Outcomes could include benefitting the planet and each other with kindness first, as opposed to judgement.

Supportive Sources
‘Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti has a number of parallels with the African ethic of Ubuntu. Published in October 2020, the encyclical has drawn attention to the social consciousness on solidarity between different members of society based on social-interdependence. The African concept of Ubuntu largely refers to inter-connectedness within humanity and between its members, and asserts that “my humanity finds its fundamental definition through your humanity.”

This definition of Ubuntu is founded on three fundamental values. First, that humanity is essentially designed to co-exist in a cosmological friendship; second, that the core values of humanity cannot only be realized through the recognition of the intrinsic pristine nature of the other person’s humanity; third, that humanity is designed to safeguard and realize the common good that binds it together.

The cosmological friendship within the concept of Ubuntu puts emphasis on relationships and mutual co-existence. In other words, one’s humanity is only fulfilled through a relationship with other closely connected human beings, as well as with those who are remotely connected. This concept of relationship in a sense implies a cosmological friendship that grounds itself in a communal attitude working towards the development of the society. Source: article on ‘Fratelli Tutti’ and ‘Ubuntu’ on Cosmological Friendship in La Civiltà Cattolica’ subscribe@laciviltacattolica.com

Baton Pass
My father-in-law Dr G Warner sent the above to me, as a perfect illustration of Ubuntu. Humanity looking after the whole human community because overall we benefit from compassion kindness and sharing. We always have. We could still. As a human-doing we perhaps get snagged inside the doing part, rather than the being a part of a living planet. The 3 paragraphs above, (italicised) offer an understanding and a way to begin experiencing our planet Earth differently. The answers for ending White supremacy as Martin Luther King Jnr said ‘are along the long arc of time, that bends towards justice’. However we can begin speeding towards the bend by, willfully engaging, interrupting and destroying White supremacy’s hold over us. Moving from pure observation to questioning and persistent resilient activists. The journey ahead is not going to be easy. But I feel that challenging journeys are by their nature both life changing, life affirming and infinitely more interesting. The River Runner documentary on Netflix is testament to this idea, another of Summer’s offering.

Resources
Resmaa Manakem discusses below in detail, revolutionary thought and how to engage with healing and then appreciating cultural wealth. Kori Carew discusses a number of challenging and revolutionary ideas about Listening, Having Curiosity, Being Vulnerable, Engaging in Action as well as Belonging and becoming aware of community, lastly in Kori’s T.E.D. talk she understands and shares insights about Having Courage to do what is right even whilst this may disrupt everything. Tricia Hersey introduces a wonderful insight about the mechanism of capitalism and how to fight back and win. Baratunde Rafiq Thurston discusses ideas about deconstructing racism that involve breaking headlines into 4 components – Subject, Action, Target, Activity. He shares his reasons as to why his approach provides clarity. Lastly Brené Brown Interviews Dr. Susan David on the need for improvement of appreciation of language, interpretation of feelings and compassion. Ultimately the idea is about a community of humans that can use language to truly see, understand and hold self and others compassionately. Those who push at the limits of possibility and what seems impossible are the free radicals who invite others to imagine beyond the horizon. The Netflix documentary The River Runner captures this idea very well.
Resmaa with Charlemagne and Angela On the Breakfast Show.
Kori Carew Ted Talk
Tricia Hersey Rest and Care as Tools for Liberation
Baratunde Rafiq Thurston How To Deconstruct Racism
Brené Brown and Dr. Sarah David Dangers of Toxic Positivity

Images
Inspired by Mandalas
Cover photo Live Together by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Lights photo by nibras al-riyami on Unsplash
Wall manadala photo by Fabio Santaniello Bruun on Unsplash
Mandala Sea photo by Jayshree Sharma on Unsplash

Internalised Racism – Global

The insidious idea of Internalised Racism has a probable point of origin. In this post I look at identifying plausible reasoning for this form of harms continuance.

4 Corners
Communities from one corner of the globe to the other that survived European invasion were infected with a number of diseases that include; the cold, the flu, chicken pox, measles, syphilis, polio. The longest standing disease after the invaders became settlers and then colonizers, is the idea that the European was/is better than the peoples that they ‘discovered.’ That indigenous populations were/are worthless or not as culturally, artistically, morally comparable to the ‘superior’ invaders. The challenging intergenerational legacy being observed is that, Black and Brown bodies have continued to hold concepts of themselves that do not serve thesmelves or anyone else, especially the African, the Asian, the South East Asian, Indigenous groups of the South Pacific and Indigenous groups across the Americas.

Splintering
But hold on to them we do. Like a forgotten splinter driven into the ball of the foot. Causing a dull throb when spun upon. Wondering how it came to be so painful – only occasionally. Considering how to remove the thin offending article when the pain becomes unbearable. Tools offered by former captors and tormentors that regenerate health – not trusted like psychotherapy or psychiatry or psychology. We may have all watched GET OUT and taken appropriate warning and evasive action!

Better?
Ideas that being fairer (White), cleaner, more Westernised and behave in a recognisable way to those that oppressed the global South. The assessment made is that Europeans offer something that could be considered as an improvement, modern, progressive. That by becoming similar to, we can be made safe. Cultures that birthed different and early forms of civilisation be damned some may think. Becoming assimilated, acculturated as Western keeps one and group ‘healthy’. Believing that the gaining of status or riches will alleviate the splinter’s harm.

Whose Game?
Only, the gain game, the suppression and denial game don’t work. When I think about those who have caused harm historically, I am brought back to my learning about intergenerational wars across Europe in History lessons at school. The blood shed for land gain. People slain for Queen, King and country. Millions that were displaced assaulted and indiscriminately violated. I am left with not wanting to honour, accept or know this villainous portion of history. Religion or Paganism offered some restitution but possibly not soulful healing. And so if cognitive dissonance, helps to support a loose form of wellbeing it is chosen over the heart rendering truth seeking of enlightened peoples. Leaving some unknowingly hurting and some knowingly and unbelievably healing.

Resources
The 2016 film Get Out by Jordan Peele staring Daniel Kaluuya is challenging. What piqued my interest in using the clip above was the scene of the Psychologist stirring a cup of tea, and the effects she has on the mind of the protagonist. Culturally competent and culturally cognisant psychotherapy can be wholly beneficial for anyone seeking restitution.
Ibram X Kendi discusses his ideas about his book and about growing up realising the importance of separating self from unhelpful ideas of identity and race.
The 2016 Film Get Out by Jordan Peele
Ibram X Kendi on Internalised Racism as Black on Black crime

Images
Twirling Light Art Photo by Riley McCullough on Unsplash

It’s Not Always

Beginning
Initially the idea of reading ‘It’s Not Always Depression’ was approached with some resistance. I was asked to review the book by Dionne and Victoria of The Counsellors Café Magazine. Here is my review a few years too late, but ties in with my earlier writing on Shame.

Depression as a topic can be viewed as an uncomfortable and difficult concept to investigate. In fact I was actively avoiding the topic. Choosing to dive right in I discovered that with guidance depression may not be the root cause of an individuals story. Hilary Jacobs Hendel has written a wonderful book that explores and explains emotion. In an accelerated way Hilary is able to discuss the effect of trapped emotions and their impact toward the person they reside within.

Internal
‘It’s Not Always Depression’ combines story-telling and science (neuropsychology and neuroscience) in a way that is compelling to read. Whilst reading the book we are able to exhume ones’ experience of the self and our internal family systems (IFS) and examine encounters we had at earlier times of our lives.

Daringly

Big T and little t
Hilary Jacobs Hendel is able to use her work as a psychotherapist to share the experiences her clients travel through to arrive at a better understanding of themselves and ultimately their story. We meet women and men that have had challenging experiences at different times in their lives. Hilary explains that these events can be viewed as big T and little t traumas. Big T traumas frame an event as overwhelmingly significant and life changing. Little t trauma shares the idea of accumulative experiences that lead to cognitive defences being set up by clients to be able to manage daily – dangers and discomforts.

Transition
For me, prejudice in all forms and racism in particular are mis-labelled as little t traumas. I feel that all forms of oppression are potentially big T traumas. Oppression discrimination and racism viscerally affect the persons viewed as other and directly affect the way’s in which these persons live or don’t get to live. Remember Breonna Taylor, Jean Charles De Menezes, Mark Duggan, Pyriscience shares a list of BIPOC deaths in Canada.

Core I.d.
By the middle of my reading ‘It’s Not Always’, I became aware of an awakening in me and was surprised as I thought I had buried certain memories. I came to recognise my core emotions of: fear, anger, sadness disgust and shame. I caught sight of myself as a child and a large T trauma that had happened for me at the age of 7. Moving through the change triangle I witnessed core feelings and thoughts that inhibited the core feeling – ideas of I shouldn’t feel this way any longer, perhaps I deserved what had happened, I didn’t understand why this thing was happening to me at that time and no one would have believed me if I were to tell. Using the change triangle I identified and accepted the feeling of shame. A disquieting emotion. I recognised the defences I had put up to protect myself and kindly understood how they had protected me but that they were not necessary any longer.

On Top

Collaborate
Clients and therapists could read this book either together or individually as it offers a wealth of knowledge and understanding about the human experience. Hilary Jacobs Hendel explains the use of AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) and her involvement with Diana Fosha’s work.

Accelerate
Hilary Jacobs Hendel’s writing is accessible and informs how a therapist using AEDP and the Change Triangle, can support a client gain insight and create change that is transformational. The book offers readers chance to ask important questions about emotions and identify experiences of small t or large T traumas. From recognising the trapped pain of earlier experiences, readers are invited to begin working to reclaim and rewire the memory and release associated emotions. Using the change triangle supports dynamic change and acceptance of a newer reclaimed identity.

Daring Greatly
The invitation Hilary shares with us is to live in an openhearted state as often as we can and of being our Authentic Selves as much as we dare.

Resources
Kimberly Cato Black Therapists Speak
AEDP Diana Fosha’s
Hilary Jacobs Hendel on Embodied Podcast
Brené Brown The Arena

Images
Cover photo by Good Faces on Unsplash
Inlay photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash
2nd inlay photo by Sebastian Pantosin on Unsplash

Love Rains – The Father Wound

I wanted to revisit the story of invisible wounds that are carried with us into adulthood. To look somemore at where Jill’s story ends and how and why Mos Def’s story begins. The reason: Psychological concepts live in us and are always present. Love Rains offers not just insight but also understanding.

Listen while you read if you can!

The Always Support

Jill Scott
Now me non clairvoyant and in love,
Made the coochie easy and the obvious invisible.
The rain was falling,
And I couldn’t see the season changing,
And the vibe slipping off its axis.
Our beautiful melody became wildly staccato. The…rain…was..falling…and…I…could not…see..that…I..was…to…be
Plowed…
And sown and fertilised,
and left to drown in his sunny afternoon,
Cumulus clouds, 84 degrees,

melody.

Chorus x1

Joy and Risk

Wide open, wide, loose like bowels after collard greens.
The mistake was made, love slipped from my lips,
Dripped down my chin and landed in his lap,
And Us became nu.
Now me non clairvoyant and in love
Made me the fool
You were never true
If you didn’t want me, ah, you should
have let me know
All you did was make a mockery of
Something so
Incredible, beautiful
I honestly did love you
So

Chorus x1

Immature
What then? Both hurt, but for two differing reasons. What follows is time healing and recovering from that pain of loss. Until it is met again and perhaps both can learn how to survive the intimacy and complications that romantic love can bring. For some, men can be less emotionally aware, less in tune with body-mind-emotion connections. Men can feel that shame and fear are the same and do not spend time investigating to understand their differences. Until an adulting experience happens. They are met by circumstances that force change. Then they do. Then they can. Then they will. Willingly facing the denial of their first hurts and begin the process of healing.

Cold and Warmth

Throne Making
Mos Def’s piece blew me away when I first heard it. It still does. No poem before or after had ever exalted and re-set the Black woman so perfectly, I wanted to possess and inhabit these words and the intention behind them, to make right the many centuries of wrong hurt blame shame and pain. This too is my shame. In a word I am sorry for the wrongs that I and my ken have brought to you. I want to make peace with you: Queen.

Mos Def:
I stretched my arms towards the sky like blades of tall grass.
The sun beat between my shoulders like carnival drums.
I sat still in hopes that it would help my wings to grow,
So that I could really be fly.
And then she arrived,
Like day break inside a railway tunnel,
Like the new moon, like a diamond in the mines, like high noon to a drunkard, sudden.
She made my heart beat in a now/now time signature.
Her skinny canvas for ultraviolet brushstrokes;
She was the sun’s painting.
She was a deep cognac color;
Her eyes sparkled like lights along the new city.
Her lips pursed as if her breath was too sweet and full for her mouth to hold.
I said, “you are the beautiful, distress of mathematics.”
I said, “For you, I would peel open the clouds like new fruit;
Give you lightning and thunder as a dowry.
I would make the sky shed all of its stars like rain,
I would clasp the constellations across your waist
and I would make the heavens your cape,
And they would be pleased to cover you.
They would be pleased to cover you,
May I please cover you?
Please”

Adoration

Heady
For me there is little in the way that speaks of adoration and reverie to honour or emits love much better than this. The poem can be interpreted as if to say I am sorry – and somehow yet, still more.

That an idyll can be obtained and brought about between Women and Men in this tale. ‘I see you, have loved you, am in love with you. With you, greater than I could ever be without you. And for that, I will share all that I am and more with you.’ That’s what I interpret in Mos Def’s verse.

The story in the remix offers a safe turn around to what is a well-known and pre-destined ending to love: Loss. Defeat. Endings.

As a result of the Kaemotherapy counselling offer, a number of Black women have been accessing my free workshops on 21st century mental health. I’ll write up my findings about the workshops soon.

Supporting Black women and men have become primary targets for my therapeutic support. There is great work to be completed and I am glad to have found a role that leads to overall wellbeing and health for more people.

Resources

Goddesses of the Roundtable Healing The Father Wound
Brené Brown Unlocking Us Podcast Ask Me Anything
Tony Porter T.E.D. Talk A Call To Men

Images
Cover photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash
1st Inlay photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash
2nd Inlay photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash
3rd Inlay photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash
4th Inlay photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash


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 owning 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 my body through exercise. 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 may 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.

A Short Story of Change

I am wondering about another way of extending my counselling practice.

Short Focused Work

I read a short story over 10 years ago of a psychologist who had worked with a client for a short number of weeks. The setting appeared to be in one of the North Eastern States of America as there was mention of Coney Island.

Assessment and direction

The story was about a man in his mid 30’s – 40’s who went to see a psychologist due to feeling low and not knowing the reason for his low mood. (I should note that no ethnicity culture or race was mentioned which for me as an African Caribbean male could mean he could be African American, Asian American, Native American, Latin American or European American). After a short assessment the psychologist was able to offer the man treatment for his low mood in the form of writing a to do list of activities and to return in exactly 1 month and pay the significant bill.

Disbelief

The client took the sheet of paper and scoffed at the advice. Joking aside he was aware of his plight. If he did not follow the psychologist’s requests things would remain the same. In the four weeks the man was able to complete the 6 things on that list. He returned to the psychologist at the 2nd appointment and told of his accomplishments and how he had noted his mood appeared better. The psychologist asked as to what was different between the two appointments? The man told him of the changes he had put in place and as a result many things in his life were different.

Invitation to Change

One of the 1st requests on the list was to take a 2 week break from work and make a concerted effort on the list as it was going to be hard to complete whilst at work.

The man spoke of revisiting Coney Island as a man, and remembering what it had been like when he had visited with his parents. Back then Coney Island had been filled with colour, noise of people having fun, the sea crashing on to the beach and gulls calling. For the psychologist had invited the man to revisit a place from his youth. As the man spoke a smile brightened his face as he remembered what returning to this place had been like for him.

List

There were a number of other tasks the list contained including:

  • Settling debts,
  • Ridding his home of debris he had collected over the years that he no longer needed,
  • Accepting the wrongs he had caused himself and suffered by others and making a resolve to wipe the slate clean. Making himself aware of the lessons and deciding to move on.
  • The last thing on the list was to write a letter to the one person he had wanted to say sorry to for a long time.

A Letter

He reported to the psychologist that this last request had been the hardest to complete. He had written the letter the previous night before coming to the appointment with the psychologist. The man told of who he had written the letter to and of his deep sorrow at not having done a few things he had said he would, and as a result what life had become – dull uninteresting flat and uneventful.

Rediscovery

The man spoke of the past four weeks as if they had been an adventure. As if he had discovered what living was about again and stated that he wanted more of it. He told the psychologist that he had written the letter for himself and was to send it to his parents apologizing for what he had not achieved even though he had had dreams when he was a boy.

StayCation

On completing the letter and signing it he made a discovery before he sent it to his parents. The man reported to the Psychologist that his life was not over and that the four weeks away had taught him a valuable lesson. He only had himself to look at for how his life was. He had decided that he was not going to make excuses for not achieving his dreams any longer! He told the psychologist that on the 1st week after his staycation he had returned to work and had handed in his notice and had found another role in a different type of work that had awoken in him a sense of adventure. The four weeks he had taken to rediscover himself had been the best investment he could ever remember making and that he would be happy to pay the fee he was being charged as the 6 short requests had brought him back to himself and to his life.

Chicken Soup?

I can remember that I had a smile on my face as I read that story. It may have been in Chicken Soup for the soul 3rd edition. What springs to my mind is the huge capacity of therapy and the individuals, groups, and children that work with us to create change in their lives. I am wondering if I shape my business in a similar way, what could happen in 2 sessions; a crash course in manifesting and managing change.

Inside Space

Inside Space