I wrote a few weeks ago about the experience of some people suffering trauma by witnessing harm come to another. Reminding them of their own hurts and past experiences of pain. Writing about Rodney King and then George Floyd has opened the door to an even earlier experience with Stephen and his jacket.
Big or Little T Trauma? Last week I wrote about the chase by police of me on my bike for reasons unknown. This week I wanted to discuss a first trauma. Yes there were others. The event was momentous as I had not been treated like this by anyone. I was about 7. It was summer. My friend ‘T’ and I were taking it in turns to ride my bike around the estate. The bike a black and yellow Cinzia, was my most treasured Christmas present! The bike was a sort of hybrid BMX.
Summer It was another hot summer 1979/1980. We kids were not up to much. Playing around the blocks of flats, killing ants, making and firing peg guns at each other and at pigeons. Harassing each other for rides on each others bikes. Playing knock down Ginger. Asking about who’s going to the shop? Because those half penny cola bottle sweets were so tangy and sweet. Tangmere used to have it all. Something unknown to my 7 year old awarness made all of the shops shut and never re-open.
Intimidate T had somehow met Stephen and been impolitely requested to give him a go of my bike. I believe Stephen had chased T and pulled him off the bike! Stephen was an older kid, maybe 10 or 11. He carried himself with some swagger. I can remember him (Stephen) pulling wheelies and doing long skids along the pavement. Treating (trashing) my bike in a disrespectful and in a way I found unapologetic in manner. Like the bike was his! I was angered by this. T may have told me what had just happened to him. I became livid I can remember. A thought I had was, this could be a case for the Red Hand Gang! But they weren’t around so, I could make this situation better all by myself.
Propulsion I ran at Stephen and shouted give me my bike back! He ignored me and sailed past. I gave chase. Screaming. Shouting. Wanting. My bike back! We met at Martlesham or Croydon one of those housing blocks on the estate. Stephen had sneered a warning to others who were gathered earlier: “if anyone touches my jacket. You’re dead.” He, Stephen, serious, warned. Me oblivious and not hearing, ignored.
Martlesham and Croydon were 5, 6 or 7 stories high with garden units at their lowest housing level. Both blocks had little to no outdoor space higher up the blocks, unless you counted the landings. All of the housing blocks had double height under building car parks. Our show down (mine and Stephen’s) was to take place in one of the car parks – later. The estate had many outdoor green park spaces dotted throughout the collection of buildings at ground level.
Engagement I think I shoved him in the back, or on the shoulder. Committing the mortal foul of touching his jacket. He had warned all who had cared to listen. But I shoved and he went ballistic. I believe that I started running before my bike hit the ground. Before Stephen started swearing. Before Stephen repeated he would hurt me after he managed to catch me. My feet took me away. At great speed. Fear is a phenomenally great accelerator.
Distance I ran. He chased. Back then aged 7. I was Nike. Fleet of foot. Good at bulldog, the running tag game. The 60m dash. The 100m sprint. But distance races I had not spent my time running. Now Stephen was quick too, and run as I might I could not lose him. He relentlessly gained on me. Swearing. I thought I could make it home, but his gallop closed down that line of escape. I turned away from racing home to Tangmere 119. To dodging between parked cars. Feeling that if I could use the cars to hide me I could evade capture.
Scared I ran for my life. Petrified. I feared that Stephen would finish me. He had said just that! This was happening and whilst in disbelief, I ran. Who threatens who about a Jacket? A jacket! Possession and custody of things I understood on some level. I put my body in harms way to get my bike back. This need felt justified. Right. Believable. Stephen’s need seemed trivial, petty. Unjustified. Stephen wanted to hurt me because he viewed his jacket as sovereign. I had mistakenly entered sacred space. Spoilt thread by touch and so here we were. Lion and gazelle in a death defying race. I feared for my life and ran away to protect it.
Relief He caught me under Martlesham and punched me a number of times. Head. Neck. Body shots. I wish I could tell you I took them all like a man and didn’t give him the satisfaction of witnessing a tear fall. I believe I cried from one side of the estate to the other. I cried up all the stairs to the top floor of Tangmere and when I got to my door which thankfully was opened by my mum. I went in and told her what had happened. She incensed. The bike left and forgotten where it lay. T later returned the bike.
Many – One Lost in my mayhem of thoughts and sorrow. I was not out for revenge. I wanted the pain and the sense of defeat at being outrun to pass. The reason – I was fast and rarely beaten in a running battle! There was the curious case of Darren. I wanted not to remember the embarrassment of losing a fight to an older boy. I vaguely remember T trying to defend me either running beside as a distractor or getting in the way of Stephen. Stephen had singled me out to exact his vengeance. And so found – was punished.
Prey The lion had found his prey and was set to claim his spoils. Remembering this painful memory does a number of things. I get to remember and release the pain that has been embedded in me for almost 40 years. There is also the courage to look at past hurts and witness the learning. I recognise that my experience of the chase trauma bears little resemblance to George Floyd’s murder or Rodney King’s assault. What I am doing is reclaiming my experience of terror. Providing an understanding of an unjust event and by doing so, allowing myself to relieve the experience of a trauma witnessed vicariously. It’s narrative therapy.
If My want in writing this series is that you the reader come away with an understanding of the term Vicarious Trauma that is personally enhanced. That the resources below support compassion and a commitment to live within an anti-racist frame, and that you comment below on these thoughts.
A good friend asked me to write something for young people. She WhatsApp’ed – ‘Hi Michael, some words which last year I was playing around with, in regards to much but, our young. Is there something you might be able to say with them? Substance, Resilience, Resistance and Persistence.’
Er… The first words that came to me was I don’t think I have ever been commissioned to write for a specific group of people on a blog before. Come to think about it some more, there was the lecture series at Greenwich University. I developed and delivered 6 lectures for their under grad psychology and counselling students in 2018. But a blog I have not specifically been asked to write before. So here goes…
A working week This request I feel is something else. I haven’t been prescribed length, style or a content delivery method by my friend. These pieces have been left for me to choose which directions I go.
What I can say about what will happen is, I will write a series of roughly 500-600 word *synopsi. These *synopsi will cover each topic over a 5-day period in a quasi-tutorial of my thinking. The intention is to make the information impactful.
A short anonymous questionnaire will be added to the last topic: Insistence and will insist you to complete. There will be a call for a change of perspectives. For long held opinions to be uprooted and chance to experience life differently, perhaps.
George’s If you are late to the party of ‘Have You Heard George’s Podcast’, I would say stop here and listen to the first 3 episodes. Why? Well apart from every episode being absolute line for line brilliance. And they are. George’s podcasts series is a perfect example of the 4 words I have been invited to speak/write about.
Substance: Throughout the series of podcasts George talks about his experiences growing up and seeing his neighbourhood turn. Throughout each episode George gives an insight to his beginnings and about his family. He speaks about his home, his country of origin, music and becoming the man he is as a result of what he has seen and lived through.
Resilience: At one point in his life George was to become a rapper and turned away from this path to do something (different) more. The knock back gave him a push to travel somewhere other than his friends and contemporaries had. He learned to believe in himself and how amazing his journey has been. *Inspirator.
Resistance: I played part 16 of George’s podcast to my family, on one of the 1stLockdown weekends here in London. They didn’t get it. George used the metaphors of the internal workings of his mind to help explain his creative processes. His rhyme and meter were used by differing voices to explain what they were doing in George’s head.
My wife (Dr CW) thought that George was having a schizophrenic episode. Their voices were of the streets. Using patois and London street *slanguage to explain their position within George’s mind. This episode was wild. What George illustrates over and over is how determined he is to see his vision exist and help others to have their realities exist too.
Lastly Persistence: In one episode of the podcast series George speaks about leaving his area and moving to go to a private school on a full scholarship. He explains that he doesn’t want to go. But his parents and the school he is going to recognise his potential, fully.
George eventually sees the error in his pre-judgement. He becomes an agent in wanting to remain aspiring rather than simply achieving. There are knocks but he makes his journey beyond North London to a Russel Group University. To become…
Renew/Review/Rethink? My intention for this mini-series of blogs; is for you to find something useful within these words. That the mini series of blogs, titled Deeping It, at least invite you to rethink elements of life and make appropriate plans to suit.
Obsession This writing thing has become an important part of my self-expression and sharing these thoughts with you has been a commitment to the art of crafting something from nothing.
Feint wisps of ideas.
Gossamer on air.
Insecto I use my notepad on my phone to catch a fly through thought, before it completely disappears. There’s something wild about these fresh new ideas, like capturing a butterfly or firefly.
Net it There have been many I miss. Usually I am driving to one of the prisons I work at listening to a podcast. A new idea will arrive with what I am listening to. Most of the time when I park the car and get out, the thought has left me. Foolishly I think the thought much like that butterfly will return.
Sometimes Like that delicate insect, the idea sort of does and sort of doesn’t. It twists and is lost in the turbulence of other thoughts. Then returns changed adapted and disguised with a cacophony of close and distant cousin ideas. There are times when I fret that Thursday mornings will arrive and at 08:30am BST I will have nothing to say, share or display. There have been close calls where I am honing and shaping unruly paragraphs or hyperlinks in before my weekly deadline of Thursday 08:30.
Real Artists Then there are those weeks when the butterfly returns with friends. I find that I cannot keep my hands still or supple enough to capture all that my mind is whizzing through. Much like my *inspirator Jeff Goins. I feel that art is in each and everyone of us.
Scribble Like the Islamic Calligrapher friend that I know. Who’s artistic talent of putting brush to paper I am ardently waiting to see, or the chef, the poet, stand up comedian, the teacher, the rapper, presentation maker, film producer, coach and fellow writers – their craft all waiting for daylight to see what they release.
Schedule Generally I don’t have a regular pattern to my time of writing. I just do. Some write every morning. Some in the evening. For me it’s as often as I can and when I do, I am searching for diamonds or gold amongst acres of untilled soil. Currently this paragraph is being written whilst the last touches to a shepherd’s pie are added. I stand in the kitchen watching, so that just enough of everything including spice is introduced. My job was to mash the potatoes add milk, butter and then add freshly grated nutmeg.
Authoring Trumpets The episode of Broken Record exemplifies my experience of writing. What Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers says about the experience of writing in the podcast, resonates with me.
Flea raises what my day to day battles, triumphs and failures, with writing are like and largely lie unknown. The failures get deleted before they are released. I try hard to polish these pieces before they are let loose.
Some blogs land like damp dish sponges. Others I feel stand out like jewels. Acid For the Children from Broken Record with Rick Rubin, Malcolm Gladwell, Bruce Headlam and Justin Richmond is a great portrayal of a person willing to find their riddle.
Inherent With just over 100 pieces of sprawling thought. Filling time and air and web space the goal is to get to 200 and then see:
Have these blogs provided value
Are they worth reading
What would Thursday’s or Fridays look like without these musings
I value what 2 years of consistent insistent and persistent practice have taught and helped me to unearth. I can only hope that you have appreciated what 1 – 3 hours of processed thoughts do.
Cavernous In 2015 when I began writing I did not realise what I had started. How much I would gain from putting pen to paper – Now more type to screen.
I am surprised by the amount of learning I would gather. Be a willing contributor to a sharing economy with these pages. A highlight for me is when speaking with others knowing that there are tunnel’s worth of processed thought and impressions. Waiting to be discovered at the push of a button. These embossed ideas lay behind and underneath me. I have used my blogs to illustrate a point that reference other’s words and ideas too. Like a labyrinth with no Minotaur I am curious about everything and what lies at the tunnel’s ending.
Together until hats and Sabres, scarves and Ammo belts tilt and Fall or thrown Down! Bullets In psychological Psychobable we blew Others away Like Chaff!
Youdashing and Daring and me Quiet, dismissive, assessing. Our foes dodging and Careening to get ‘way From your shots. My warnings.
Sparing none. Killing With kindness and Flare. Tragedy and Trauma. Both lived Brushed off, scarred A little, and so knew Our enemies Well.
Not versed and Unable to battle Similar. Spat ‘n Cursed ‘n had to Let us Pass undeterred.
But harm they Did. Blatantly. Traps. Audaciously, withering with Lies and supported by Cavalry and legions of Followers, sheep, braying, Stinking others who Thought we were Outgunned by seniority.
Pseudo superiority. They Shot down, we battle Weary. Back to back. Butch and Sun Dance. You slim and Deft and defiant. Confident. Me heavy and Slow, somber looking. Attached to thinking. Acting mute.
Throwing all, silent Fingers of vengeance and Despised eyes of Demise, a Phoenix rises From ashes and So warned they Burned. Mightily. We Still laugh at their Moxie and With our children tell Of bravery in Battle, little big stories.
Inspired by your tracings of invisible marks and rememberings of days past EK.
Writing short little epithets, as seen below, after completing a 10-minute meditation has been a part of my meditation practice for just over a year. After nearly 400 days of continual practice with the Calm app, I am open to continue with the learning and growing. Recognising that I have an inquisitive and restless mind has been testing. Finding a practice that reduces anxiety has been useful for me to develop a better understanding of myself. The practice of 10-15 minute meditation every day also supports maintain my focus at this challenging time of World History.
Wise words The quote from calm that inspired this post was – ‘Let difficulty transform you. And it will. In my experience, we just need help in learning how not to run away’ by Pema Chodron.
My response @calm ‘Noticing that challenges are made to be overcome and they are as much ‘How’ as they are ‘When’. Ask for guidance or help when needed #meditation.
To the quick The example of the short quip above, is an effort to show that I understand the difficulty of not turning in the opposite direction. Away from the source of uncomfortable challenge. Making a fail safe leave plan when things get tough. Like now!
Healers There is an attempt to take the quote and re-interpret Pema Chodrin’s words. I then offer both the quote and my interpretation as a support. You may have seen the quote/remix on various social media spaces I inhabit. The quote/remixes are also a way to share that, should someone want access to mental health support I know of many who could be of impactful assistance.
Target 400 After 395 days of consistent daily meditation practice and a solid bombardment of information about the Corona-virus/COVID-19 pandemic. My need for meditation happens to be both an escape and a cure to return the mind to a steady hum. I have found the practice to be a salve.
Reset The hype, hysteria and hyperbole of the disease and recognisable human responses including denial, panic buying, hoarding, frequent information fly wheel gathering, does little to aid our capacity to find a level state of mindful yet calm awareness. In fact it is often quite the opposite.
How To overcome a challenge is a request to understand what it is and how it may affect things for you, family, friends and colleagues. See the challenge as a problem to solve. Aim at becoming creative and communicate with others about what the challenge is and see if others have met/experienced a similar difficulty and what they did? Rarely are you the only person to have faced a problem like it. Accepting advice could be an appropriate way to make it to the other side.
When That can all depend on you. Running away from the challenge usually puts the difficulty off for an undefined length of time. But, it will return. It usually is an universal phenomena. ‘Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ was a saying my mum would say to me. Possibly her mum may have said it to her too when she was in her teens.
Train It would be understandable to remove yourself from a challenge for a short time, build up the necessary skills, strength, understanding and then return and overcome said problem.
Result The outcome for getting beyond the difficulty is the learning we gain from doing so. Being a life-long learner and a perpetual student of life supports growing past false limitations, possibly put in place by others. Apply understanding and continue honing, growing and improving. I believe growing after facing adversity is one of the best achievements of our lives. Becoming a therapist is a part of that story for me, but so is becoming a father, supervisor, lecturer, writer…
Emotional literacy is a term used to understand ones emotions. In light of the swathe of information in relation to mental health, mental illness and the taboo subjects of psychosis and schizophrenia entering our regular experience. I write to explore a small but significant distance. A gap is beginning to widen in relation to being able to discuss the effects of mental illness and what a person feels. Almost like the dark side of the moon – present but never seen.
Omnipresent Majesty – Humility
Luke Roberts was possibly the first person to highlight the willingness commonly witnessed of our public to talk about a mental illness. A few years ago that was unheard of, no one talked about their stuff openly! The gap of not connecting illness with the effects it has on a sufferers/survivors life alongside their emotions appears irrational to me. A sea change has occurred of the willingness to talk about mental illness that has been supported by various well known individuals sharing their stories in a variety of ways: podcasts, radio, television, newspapers, books, blogs. Luke’s point relates to our joint vulnerability in expressing witnessing and accepting that the many they’s are the many us’s. Humility possibly also plays a part here also. We have become inured to the siren and unable to recognise the pain that those who have shared their stories have lived through, or are living with.
Balance on the river Li
The overall benefit to being open about life’s challenges and the trials one has lived through is encouraging to another who may have similar troubles. By hearing another’s triumph over a personal tragedy, surviving the hurricane of war, another story can be developed like a picture. Showing a story of wonder and banal normalcy.
Delight of Autumn
There is something sensational about another person expressing their hurts in a public domain that captures attention. Are we looking to empathise with that person’s experience, knowing their story may well support us in avoiding a similar fate happening for us, witnessing another’s horror offers chance to pay attention to the frailty of life?
I think one of the aspects that those who work with others intimately recognise is the strength of vulnerability as well as the beauty in the human experiences of loss, gain, winning, failing, laughing, journeying, pain and healing. It is the promise of alchemy that attracts.
The gleam of joint success and winning and losing and overcoming and moving beyond the hurt to something else…
Exposing one’s hurts invites the *witnesser to pay attention to what ails, that can offer chance to review and chance to change. With emotional literacy what is being invited is to recognise what hurts during the conversation. Focusing on the internal world to invite change. The Chimp Paradox is an excellent example of us figuring out what is causing us conflict before it is unfurled and hurts another/others or ourselves. The motive is an understanding that as a human we experienced a number of developments in our life that largely supported our growth.
We may recognise that we have an inner child, a surly and impatient teen, an internal parent and a calming adult voice. The tensions that arise by being pulled in a number of different directions by these parts inside of us, cause some emotional pain, in the least invite us to questions such as “Why did I just do that?” “Why can’t I just get over this?” My favourite is “What’s wrong with me?” Invariably nothing is ‘wrong’. What may have happened is you are experiencing the tension between different parts of the self that are in conflict and may have been hi-jacked by an emotion or fear.
As humans we have drives that enable us to navigate through life and learn: seeking safety and warmth, finding a partner, finding food and sustenance. These different drives can throw us against societal norms and personal wants/drives leading to conflict. A great example of this is the marshmallow test. The want to eat for those between the ages of 4 and 7 are so great that some children eat the one marshmallow rather than wait the 3-5 minutes and get to eat 2. Delaying gratification is a skill that is learned over time. As is the ability to be emotionally literate. One can’t run at it like other self-development programmes. Like training oneself for any new skill or ability it is best achieved over time.
‘There will be many failures along the way. Ah, but the successes will carry for longer…’
And she said something a few weeks ago that had me wondering about social capital and social responsibility. A note to the wise – this is a declaration for curiosity and moving into a space of complexity and accomplishing the mighty good.
Islamic Wall Art
“If I showed up everyone would just get up and leave” she said.
A small piece of my heart broke. Amazed and stunned I listened on as she a Muslim woman spoke about her dislike of pubs and the abject fear she might invoke in others if she were to visit a *house of alcohol.
(*My words not hers)
At times silence and laughter are used to cover the uncomfortable. I smiled and reflected on my non pub going history. I held the notion since Uni that Pubs were not spaces I felt comfortable or safe in. Alcohol and the consumption of numerous pints were for others and not for necessarily for me. I also held the misguided notion that if I were to go to a pub much like my colleague I could be the cause of the music to stop, fights to breakout or the lively conversation to awkwardly end, and that I would be caused to leave. I hadn’t thought of people being propelled from a space I walked into due to my ethnicity, or that people may react that way to her for her faith. London Summer of 2018.
Discussing the comment a little more I could see some similar themes between my story and hers. She then said “Because of my faith we do see Muslims that do drink (alcohol) if I were to go into a pub and someone saw me (gestures to her *Khimar) it would, you know, be like a sign that it’s okay. I couldn’t take that responsibility. I wouldn’t want someone to think because I did they would too. I just don’t like pubs for me. I don’t get it really. Since I converted it’s not something I can see myself doing.”
*I had thought that a Hijab was the attire worn by some Muslim women. But an Hijab I was reliably informed is a term used for a woman that is covered.
Islamic Art by Sargodha
The Greater Good
In that moment I got it. My colleague was not thinking solely about herself or the other Muslim who may, by chance see her entering a pub. I believe my colleague was speaking about the greater good. The ability to place community both seen and unseen alongside and in front of ones individual needs. A greater I, a social responsibility to other faithful Muslims. The request to ‘go to the pub’ came from someone that was leaving the organisation. An unwritten rule of going to the pub to say goodbye to their team and the organisation was the offer. Personal needs/responsibility met social capital with respect and honour – and undoubtedly won.
Awe and Humility
The altruist was observing another law. One that she chose to follow, be in awareness of and sit humbly with. A gentle observing of what unity means for her faith and community that simply outshines the tidal experiences of work alliances and friendships. What was true for her was that attending a pub went against a fundamental truth and did not bow to external pressures from the team. I am usually awed by the immense of space, by scenes of staggering beauty, deft and touching poetry, art that takes breaths away, music that opens doorways. But this, this, this was something else. It spoke of time, respect, values, integrity. It spoke of the greater WE and a love that appeared without an end. Quietly…
A Better WE
My acceptance to pub and bar life is tentative and retracts like a wave. Alcohol is a cognitive disinhibitor and a troubling agent for thinly veiled opinions and loose tongues. I am looking for a greater more un-inhibited WE outside of religion and pubs, away from schoolisms and other human trappings that control, dehumanise, limit and separate. The WE that views all as a continuum and is hungry for parity and better centuries to follow Now!
The Pillars of Unity
I seek what may never be found – a utopia, an ideal, a peace amongst humanity that lasts. Perhaps the need is myth and arises at these worrying and troubled times. Or as Eric Hoffer has written about we came as close to a difficult place as we could and were scared back into what we knew. Dank Dark Smelly Fear. And here we could remain until we all purposefully choose something better. My wish for her, for me, for Us is that we find other ways…
A few weeks ago I had a conversation about an interesting part of ending a meeting or a conversation – the good bye.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: