Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Not to Punish but to Understand

Sometimes it happens that you read or hear or experience something so sharp, so surprising, so out of left field, so TRUE that it stops you in your tracks. That’s what happened the other day when I came across this quote on social media.

Imagine meeting someone who wanted to learn your past not to punish you, but to understand how you needed to be loved. (Author unknown)

There is personal relevance in the words, for me and others in my life right now. But that’s not what I want to write about. What I want to explore — and I am writing as much for me as for you, dear reader — is why it would ever be otherwise. Why are those lines so shocking? Ought not every person we meet — certainly every person we allow in close — approach us in such a way?

Perhaps. Well, yes, in fact. But for a whole heap of reasons silence and stigma and shame remain powerful forces in society at large and in the smaller, more immediate communities in which we live out our lives. Wherever we meet — in our families, schools, colleges, places of work and of worship — the response to us, to our stories and histories, so often falls short of the caring curiosity for which we yearn.

Sadder still, we punish ourselves for what we have done or said, or failed to do or failed to say; the times we believe we have let ourselves or others down. How rarely do we approach ourselves with compassion?

What would it feel like if we did? How would it feel to explore our own stories wanting not to punish but to understand how we need to be loved?


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Even the Good Things: A Lesson in Letting Go

There are moments when everything stops.

I felt it yesterday after a week or more filled with activity and people and work and possibilities and doubts and anxieties and joys and new friends and old friends and smiles and conversations and sharing and a movie that touched me deeply.

After all of that there came a pause. Not an ending but a natural hiatus, like the moment between breathing in and breathing out that we fail to notice most of the time because we are too busy doing or saying or thinking about other things.

And I didn’t know what to do with it. The gap. The space. I told Fran I felt flat. And she said:

Embrace the flatness

That was it. Three words. She knew I didn’t need a lecture or a diagram or a two hour conversation. And she was right. And what came to me in that moment of being reminded (re-mind-ed) was something we have been working with over the years we have been friends.


It can be challenging to handle powerful emotions, especially when they seem to come out of nowhere. Rather than allowing our emotions free rein, or trying to deny them, we find it helps to accept what we feel, take whatever meaning we can from the experience, and then release our attachment to it so we can move on.

High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder

And so that’s what I did. (In this context, “Embrace” can stand for the first three parts: Feel, Claim, Love.) I felt what I had labelled as “flatness.” And found that it was not empty or still at all. At its “flat” surface emotions rose and fell back, shifting in and out of existence even as I became aware of them. It was a dynamic emotional silence like the kind of acoustic silence that is alive with ambient sound. I smiled.

I claimed it as mine. No one else was responsible or to blame. No one else in the history of the universe past, present or future had known, or knew, or would know this moment as I had the capacity to know it. This was mine. This was me.

And I loved it. Or rather I was aware of a rush of love that began with me and expanded out to all my friends, family, all the people in my life, all the events and connections between them and me and within them and between us all. A moment of acceptance. The kind that makes you sigh out loud.

And letting go? I recalled a poem I’d read aloud to Fran a few days before. It wasn’t new to us but some things are worth revisiting.

She Let Go, by Safire Rose

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.
There was no effort.
There was no struggle.
It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.
It was what it was, and it is just that.

And I let go. I let go of my expectations of what flatness ought to be. I let go of any judgment about what I was feeling or not feeling or doing or not doing. I let go of my attachment to even this moment of bliss. And I smiled again, hearing a friend’s words clearly in my mind:

Vikki: Even the good things I’ve got to let go?

Martin: Not the things, but the feels, yes. How else can the next feelings arrive if you’re holding on too tightly to the old ones? You don’t have to let go of them immediately, just don’t hold on too long. It’s mostly the bad things we hold on to too long.


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

What a Week That Was!

I’m writing this at AMT Coffee in Newcastle’s Central Station. I am meeting a friend in an hour or so but right now it’s Marty time.

Just over a week ago I attended Newcastle Recovery College Collective’s leaving party at Broadacre House. The college is moving to new accommodation in the autumn and there was a distinct “end of an era” feel about the event which amply demonstrated how important ReCoCo is to those who use it. I had a fabulous time listening to the karaoke (Vikki you were awesome!) and even got up to dance at one point. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome.

The following day I volunteered for Time to Change at Newcastle Pride. This was the third time I’d done so and as usual I had a great time catching up with old friends (hi Carol, Angela, Aimee, and Amanda) and making new ones (hi Nicki!)

We were there to engage with folk visiting the event, to share information and answer questions about Time to Change, and to help encourage a more open approach to mental health. I lost count of the conversations I had but one or two in particular left an impression on me. As I told a friend later:

For me, what makes it so worthwhile is when I am talking to someone who might not be used to sharing about their mental health and I comment or ask a question and they are like “yes!” In that moment there is this really genuine human connection. That happened a few times today.

Monday was a big day for me. It was my debut appearance on the Executive Team call at work. I was there to present the mental health initiatives I’ve been helping develop with the rest of our fledgling mental health team. I’d got myself all stressy about the technology side of attending the call, but thanks to several colleagues especially my fab boss Judith, and Cheryl who let me impersonate her for the occasion, it all went smoothly.

My main objective was to gain approval for the company to sign up to Time to Change’s Employer Pledge Scheme. It says a lot about our leadership team that my recommendation was approved unanimously. I’m looking forward to taking the initiative forward in the weeks to come.

Outside of work my week has been rich and full with phone calls and chats and face-to-face conversations with friends near and far. After a couple of weeks’ break I’ve also got back to my writing, with a new article on bipolar anger for bp Magazine. In something of a departure for me I have been able to draw on a wide range of experiences generously shared by others. It has broadened my knowledge and awareness and the final article will be far richer for it. Anger is a fascinating topic and I’m already considering a possible follow-up article (thanks Barry for that idea!)

So yes, it has been a busy week! I wonder what the next one will bring?!