Goodbyes…

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about an interesting part of ending a meeting or a conversation – the good bye.

Good Bye Umbrella

Wind Caught Umbrella Away

I asked my colleague, “How do you find saying good bye to another professional?” I asked.

She replied: “I never really thought about it.”
I said: “Well…. I… have and I find myself saying bu’bye to just about everyone, even to people that are from call centres. What am I doing?” I said
“Well”… she paused, “it is a nice way to bring a conversation to an end. With my friends I sort of say BYEEEeee” She said
“So you sort of sing it?” I asked
“Yeah something like that…” she said, “…And then with one of the counsellors I worked with before, she would  say Bye Bye Bye Bye Bye as they were putting down the phone almost apologetically ending the conversation.”

Intention

Here I laughed uproariously, I couldn’t control it. The laughter was delicious and surprising and welcome. My laughter was in part due of recognition of how a counsellor may behave trying hard to maintain compassionate boundaries and also ending a call with a client. My colleague’s re-enactment was also a great characterisation of a person tentatively putting down the phone receiver cautiously. I could almost see the care and non malificence of the counsellor’s intent.

Family

My laugh of recognition was also about how I end my calls this way with my sisters especially my eldest sister.
One of my nieces asked: “Why can’t you just say I love you and get it over with?”
I gave a long explanation about the long good bye as meaning the same thing! My niece 14 at the time didn’t quite buy it. I don’t believe I really did either.

Formal

The goodbye or the bu’bye conversation with my colleague continued as I was looking for comparison with how others manage their goodbyes and when and where a bu’bye is an appropriate way of ending an engagement with another.

Warm

Perhaps a goodbye has become formalised as a permanent ending – hard with finality. Where as bu’bye is warm and has a similar meaning but is vague and familiar. I have in mind the bu’byes I said to my sons when they were much younger. However singing a good bye as my colleague does with her friends, I understand as another form of familiar parlance and recognition of the significance for people close to oneself.

Endings

Final Goodbyes

Goodbye Walking Away

In a few weeks I have an uncomfortable good bye ahead of me. My time at Together for Mental Wellbeing has run it’s course and I am to move on to pastures new. The experience I have gained at the charity has been amazing, transformative and unforgettable. The discomfort arises as I bare witness to the friends I have made, moments of inspiration had, insights shared, support offered and ideas for development discussed, are to be no more.

As a lay philosopher the opportunity to discuss ideas with others about the advancement of the criminal justice service in London and find ways to better support those in the community and those in custodial settings I will greatly miss.

As a group I have not come across another set of people that are as committed, compassionate, resourceful, flexible in thinking, and willing to work the unforgiving hours until the job is complete. It has been a growth making experience working alongside: Counselling Psychologists, Community Links Workers, Counsellors, Forensic Psychologists, the Data Team, IT department, HR team, Admin team, Managers from around the world all contributing to an organisation that has a belief based in recovery and safe return/re-entry to the community

Saying goodbye to all of the above is saying good onward journey for both of us. Borrowing a phrase from Chris the Big Issue seller at London Bridge who always offers me a phrase that makes me smile:

A truthful quote

Painful Goodbyes

‘Until we meet again’

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It’s All in the Hands

With summer at it’s height and the evening’s beginning to draw in, I noted my willingness to bake shoot into overdrive. I was asked by a colleague what got me into baking and said “Baking helps me manage anxiety”. Baking helps to stall the thoughts that build about the improbable future by occupying time and ones hands and ones mind with the act of making something – edible gold.

A Probation Favourite

Potato and Dill Bread

Distraction

In an earlier blog I mentioned that I baked my first savoury bread as a result of not knowing how to begin writing my dissertation for my masters in counselling. In a way baking helped to calm my nerves about the mammoth task ahead of me. Writing a significant piece about my early life and relationship with my mother was an unwelcome challenge. Baking bread helped to transform anxiety and stress into doing something productive and creative.

Transition

My first ever bread was a banana bread which lead on to an attempt at making an Irish Soda bread. The step from the banana bread to the Irish Soda was not too great. Unlike studying at an undergrad level with Interior Design and then studying at a masters level with Therapeutic Counselling. The transition from Banana Bread to Irish Soda was straightforward. With the Irish Soda, I didn’t need to invest in any equipment like a bread mixer or training, practice and time were the only requirements.

Development

Bread baking has taken me to attempt sour dough’s, brioche’s, fruit loaves and pastries including croissants and pain aux chocolate. This is not an advert for suggesting a try at the Great British Bake off. Baking relieves me of pent up energy and emotion and relaxes me immensely. GBBO is entirely enjoyable to watch, to be a participant? Not for me. I could see the vision of the master bake ending up in a bin much like a previous contestant were things to go wrong. Baking remains a joy, a simple pleasure. The product of which can cause a rush of excitement and some envy.

The Baking CV

I have brought baked goods into most of the places I have worked:
2004-2007 Salesian College mostly cakes and an Irish Soda Bread
2009 – 2012 Drs Surgery near Camberwell cakes.
2010 -2014 Belmarsh Prison I pushed myself a little and attempted cakes and more complex breads including a quick rye bread.
2014 The University of Kent where I was a student mentor – Breads and cakes. This is where I honed the skill of making the sourdough. A book bought for Christmas that year the handmade loaf by Dan Lepard inspired me.

Smiles

In the 3 years I have worked alongside probation I have brought many breads and baked goods in to offices at Greenwich, Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Southwark. The bread is usually accompanied by cheeses, grapes, butter and jam or a soft spread. My belief is, those that work in the public domain genuinely are unsung heroes and are in need of congratulating and validation by those they serve and look after (Society). My offerings were a small testament to an idea: ‘Gift others with something pleasant that would be hard for them to return’. The breads cakes and other items I brought in, usually vanished in a short space of time and put a smile on most people’s faces. For me giving and causing for a short while joy, was priceless.

Edutainment

Mentioning the GBBO above, stirs my thinking about what Channel 4 will offer us this season? Last year’s departure from BBC1 to Channel 4 did not deter my admiration for the participants or enjoyment of watching the show. It still ticks most of the boxes for good entertainment. A sour faced judge, a fair judge, and 2 comedians bringing levity when things inevitably go wrong. The mini edutainment sections are also in CH4’s edition too. Netflix has all 7 seasons and all episodes. Let the entertainment begin!

2 Artisan Breads

Sundried Tomato, Onion and Cheese Loaf alongside a Caraway and Raisin Bread.

Appreciation

I baked for my team of Forensic Mental Health Practitioners recently – 3 Dan Lepard Recipes: a classic banana bread, a yoghurt and chive bread, an onion and cheese baguette that has an MO addition of sundried tomatoes. Renamed  as ‘Pizza Bread’ by a colleague at Together. My anxiety about my moving on from Together enabled me to craft 2 wonderful loaves and a cake as a goodbye to a brilliant team. As a group the NPS team have worked diligently and passionately in probation offices across London. Overcoming a number of unforeseen challenges, obstacles and developments within the service. The bread was to say thank you and that their efforts have been greatly appreciated by me, Together, Probation and the service users they have supported.

Memories fade like the aroma of a freshly baked bread, I would like to hold on to these memories for a while longer…

Another Awakening

Bridge into Wooded Vale

Here to there

Working in the criminal justice field for over 7 years I thought I had a good level of knowledge about supporting service users. Attending a round table discussion in January at Cookham Wood young offenders institute in Rochester changed my idea significantly. The Managing Director of Resolve Consultants invited attendees to ‘stay with the looseness’ and attempt to find solutions to end youth violence. The resilience, purpose, energy and passion of Mr Roberts is an awakening, that has inspired 2 poems that follow Pt 1…

The Other Half of Me 

You are the
Michael Jordan
To my Pippen
The Mozart to a
Beethoven

Wildly Spanning a River

The stable meets the mutable

The visible to
My hidden
The bold brass
To a
Whispers last
Gasp

A Soleil brilliant
To a twinkling
Distant
The trumpet to
My breath, my
Air, my aria
To your song
The Dance – slick
To my silent
Rhythm and
The key to a
Lock that is
Buried
Deep and
Unwilling, unyielding to
Let loose and
Fly because
Because,
Because you
Might not be
There, where

Passing beyond

An End?

Landfall is
And so
Like the shot
Not scored
My time is
Made up of,
Of waiting.
Fastening
Debating
Enlightening?
Fighting off
Fears of
Failure
Often.

Then I
Close eyes
Breath deep and
Let in…

Why Therapy, Why Me?

Angel Falls and Therapy Choosing me

Therapy Why Me? Angel Falls

The realisation of why I became a counsellor I had thought for a long time was because of a delayed and complicated grief of my mother’s passing in 1993.

Reading the TIP guide for trauma Informed Practice training, I attended recently delivered by Eva Roussou, I recognised a fundamental interest that drew me to provide healing encounters and environments with clients. The TIP guide illustrates that trauma can be Intergenerational and Historical. When I think about my family, my sisters and I, and then the countries my parents originated from – Guyana and Ghana I am unable to think past their colonial pasts.

Recolonization

An Historical Past

The Colonial Building Guyana

Both being immigrants and relocating to the UK in the early 60s, they possibly both experienced a number of personal hardships including finding accommodation, finding work, becoming British Citizens, maintaining familial links both in their new host nation and overseas. Adapting to a new culture, adjusting to different ways of seeing themselves and others like them and 1960s England, engaging with environmental hostilities and relearning that their knowledge and education from their homelands may not have prepared them for all they were to encounter in High Wycombe and then London.

Guinness Seeping

I never met both of my maternal grandparents or my grandfather on my fathers side of the family. What I am vaguely aware of from both parents was that Inter-generational trauma and Historical trauma seeped into their raising of me and my sisters. Physical punishment as well as emotional distance was a part of their parenting styles.

Ghana's Kwame Nkruma Mausoleum Park

Ghana’s 1st President National Park

Throughout the TIP training a nagging awareness kept pulling me back to a number of experiences where non trauma informed reactions from parent to child were observed. Ripping furniture, dropping bottles of Guinness as I failed to jump a wall – smashing the bottles and cutting both hands, sliding down newly carpeted stairs were all met with physical punishments. This being the 1970s, Childline was a deterrent bound to the future. This being raised on a North London housing estate with other immigrant families. Not entirely an unfamiliarity, using corporal punishment as a way to discipline children. Historical trauma? Colonial histories?

Opaque past

TIP invited me to think about the experiences that both parents may have had with their parents and then back to the idea of Historical trauma. Was what I and my sisters lived with a result of my Great Grandparents experience of the trauma they had encountered: families being torn apart, physical abuse, neglect, kidnapping, unexplained disappearances, negation of human qualities or feelings, disease, death, addictions? How do I make sense of these half imagined but sensed intuitions and then make use of them to support self and then others?

Fierce

Listening to www.baatn.or.uk podcast on family constellations was illuminating and solution forming. I recognise that my journey is about setting things right for my children – underscoring the then and the now. Remembering that I and they are living in a different time. James Oliver invites us to be mindful that we are going to make mistakes as parents. The aim for me: impart a willingness to my 2 children, to move on and up with all the necessary parts from their collected histories. As a parent I am to be compassionate, resilient, patient and with an unending and unconditional love that supports their growth ability interdependence and independence fiercely.

Alchemy

Why Me Why Therapy - Providing knowledge to feed generations

Supporting communities to fish

As a therapist I am to continue adventuring the boundaries of counselling to support others.

Remaining creatively inquisitive and humorously engaged with the alchemy of change.

Poetry – Psychology

Street Art - Poetry

Poetry as street art

Stopping

Having seen Innua Ellams perform, there seemed little reason for a continuance from my poetry book. His flow, poise, diction, ability to instil images in the mind of an audience I found defiant, brilliant and silencing. This was back in 2006. The idea of walking away from performance poetry never to return: easy. Watching Suli Breaks perform for an event for the Terrence Higgins Trust in 2015 reopened a door I had permanently shut. Speaking with Suli after he performed ‘Why I Hate School but Love Education’ reawakened a sleeping ember.

There has been a growing sense that the writing I offer has a significant piece of me missing. It feels like an eternity ago, that I used to stand, sometimes shimmy, on stage and offer my version of poetry to audiences in Shoreditch or near Spitalfields Market. Finding the experience of flow whilst teaching in April was a welcome experience. A friend commented once that the below was some of my ‘best writing’.

Perhaps…

After the conference

So I asked her how she got that scar on her chin…
She blushed then answered…
My mind had already raced ahead and targeted the place and,
Time the incident had occurred, and then

I noticed it in a work group, work shop, work thing, at a
Conference just off Oxford Street
It wasn’t big. Just a
Thin line. A divot of definition. Running off centre off
Of the chin to just below the bottom lip.

I had wondered how it came to be there, this scar.
Imagining a cat fight in poor light, searching to take aim,
Then fire. The line was construed as if a ruler and
Knife or other sharp object had come together to divide.
It must have bled.

Trying not to stare. It didn’t stand out much. No more
So than her brown shoulder length hair, or rich brown
Eyes. Framed in blue white sclera’s. Her pupils were
Large as she interacted with the group. Graceful arm
Sweeps as she elucidated her points

Imagining blood, seeping from the cut, slowly, loosely
Dripping, freely and with that free hand wiping gracefully
Wiping away the wound marked in red.

Ashamed? I could guess not. Aghast probably – unlike
The expected monthly. This red was of Pain not birth but
Death. I continued to stare. Aware of the mesmerising
Allure of this faint forgotten sliced vein.

She turned her head and I could tell it was only skin
Deep. Near fainted as she caught me. Gazing. Intimately
At her chin, out of the corner of her eyes. I shamefacedly
Averted my gaze – towards the mint green carpeted floor.
Resumed idle talk with a neighbour. Then turned to the
Door. As if expectant of a SURPRISE visitor.

The mark still called (Michael) my eyes back to
That point on her face, just above her chin and
Just below her bottom lip.

Only this time gazing through her noticing
Everything and her chin, the brown cords jacket,
The black blue jeans, the dark toe scuffed ankle
Boot shoe things. Sitting cross legged – Right over Left.

But above all, the mark, skin deep, kept calling,
And again my eyes went back to wandering

…”I had fallen through a plate of glass” she said
And re-enacted the scene, whilst sitting, then
Blushed

I chose that moment to gush an apology then
Said “Excuse me” and left the scene. She
Leaning on her right knee…
Holding her chin.

Wondering…

2004

At the time of writing ‘After the Conference’, I had never thought of involving myself with psychology or even forensic psychotherapy. The clues of what I do now are hinted at within the poem. Imagining scenes that have the potential to be as real for me as falling through a plate of glass was for her.

When supporting service users or clients as a counsellor, the role can be about holding  visions of hope. And possible alternatives that uplift, cleanse, heal.

Supporting another way to view the world that holds more potential than before.

The recognition for myself is that use of poetry back then, assisted a blending of realities – words as paint. Finding another way beyond an interior design career. Of course my poetry would be different to Innua Elams and Suli Breaks, it has taken a while to recognise and appreciate this.

The entry to the world of prose, poetry rhyme and meter, began before Hip Hop and has lead me to multiverses of psychology and…

Gambit exhibiting his power

Teachers Gambit

Unmoored1

In May I ended my final year with both year one and year two integrative counselling students at the University of Greenwich. I have taught at the University of Greenwich for 3 years as a visiting lecturer. The final teaching lessons with both year 1 and year 2 were surprising and left me feeling un-moored.

What Next

Ending with both year 1 and year 2, conversations involved what would come next??? With year 1 the conversations involved what they had survived and what the next year would bring.  The Counselling and Psychology departments are to move from Avery Hill to the Dreadnought building in Greenwich village, London UK. The change of location represents a physical re-ordering to the experience of teaching and learning. Changes to the orientation of the scheduled lessons and new group members will add an additional layer of nuance to the students day.

High seas 1

Relief

The new cohort of students (2018  – 2019) will not be any wiser of these changes. The 2 groups of students I taught on their last day were relieved to have passed through the gate of the unknown and were weary from the internal struggles the course had helped unearth. I enjoyed the teaching. The opportunity to share what knowledge I have with minds receptive to new ideas – ideas that at times were vastly different to their own. The excitement of moving from unknowing to knowing more, is more than worthy of the days nights and weeks spent marking students work. I will no longer be a part of the excitement, the changes, the conflicts, the time tabling confusions, rooms being locked, difficulties with technology – I am going to miss all of this!

Soft Departures

For year 2, I was to discuss formation of their counselling identity. The presentation began with a student stating that they would not be returning for year 3. A number of students expressed surprise and disappointment as well as tender comments about the student leaving the course this year spattered amongst the room. The student will leave with a level VII (7) diploma and a confidence about how they are going to engage with counselling and psychotherapy.

It’s Personal

For those that were to continue onto year 3, there were ideas as to what was to happen for them. A few students identified that the dissertation piece had been a challenge to be moderated on. The point of the exercise was to gather an understanding of their counselling approach. As an integrative course the need to understand the ‘how and why’ of using a particular theory is important for the therapist and for the client to know.

The Journey

Sharing my counselling journey from 2012 when I completed the same course, with year 2 students was a special moment. Describing the numerous points of growth change and adaptation of how I viewed and interact with the world. Sharing experiences that developed awareness of competence and confidence, helped the arrival where it feels natural to share ideas with a group of 20-30 people as if speaking to a group of friends.

Newbie

I have shared a number of times about the experiential group of that first year. The group surprised and impressed me. There was a dynamic rich freshness, a vibrancy of their experience that fueled the group’s discussions. It may have been my newness to the whole teaching experience that has framed them as a pivotal memory.

In year two I worked with my first all women experiential group, I had chance to relearn what I thought I knew from the previous year. A welcome surprise. I had chance to reflect on growing up within an all-female household. Growing into adulthood I came to appreciate a non-male dominated space – this experiential group mirrored that.

Lecturing

In this my third year I was offered the chance to lecture on the undergrad psychology and counselling course, teach a year one case discussion group, facilitate a year one all women experiential group, and teach the year two case discussion. I have gained a huge amount of knowledge about direction and imparting some of my book learning to trainee counsellors. Fortunately they were receptive to some of the ideas and some of the critiques I offered.

rough seas 2

Irv’s wisdom

Having had the opportunity in April to interview the enigmatic Irvin Yalom for the Counsellors Café – he shared the finer subtleties of working with process groups, he advised that to support a group learn and become it’s own entity, you have to be willing to risk being real, be present and be a part of the process. Be where they are at. Be honest, congruent, vulnerable… I came close…

Illusions

In my 2nd year of teaching (2016 – 2017) a number of opportunities to share interesting ideas seemed to arrive at the end our experiential groups – I went with it and shared. On my last day of this years visiting lecturing, I shared with the year one case discussion group a book. ‘The structure of Magic” and I invited seven of the group members to read a number of the opening paragraphs. The first chapter discusses the idea of magic. Magicians, Princesses and Princes populate a land and a boy is to understand his place amongst it all. The ideas that counsellors follow in the tradition of Freud, we perhaps are also Magicians creating illusions.

Provoke

Those that we work with use the magic to create new stories and illusions of their own making. The year 1 students were challenged by the idea and I deliberately meant to be provocative. Another idea that also challenged them, was my earlier offering of therapists, counsellors, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts being Judge, Jury and executioners.

Invitation

The loss felt, as I move on from the experience of teaching and learning was, the ideas propagated within the minds of students will be watered by other gardeners now.

The un-mooring invites the idea of finding new ports, trade knowledge acquired on high seas, amongst audiences new. The sense of risk and triumph much like the rise and fall of tidal swells offers, chance to arrive there once again…

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!