Thursday, 27 September 2012

Breathing Space

It has been a privilege to engage with the families of missing people through the workshops I have been delivering on behalf of the Charity.  It has been a pleasure to get out of London.  It reminds me that whilst I love living in the big smoke, I also adore getting out.  I feel myself expanding, and breathing more deeply when surrounded by trees and fields.  I remember speaking to a friend who spent several winters abroad, working in ski resorts.  She was troubled by the landscape, and I struggled to understand her complaint.  She spoke of missing the sky. 
I now appreciate what it is that she was referring to.  In some respects a ski resort has more in common with a big city than one might immediately recognise.  The mountains protrude and dominate, crowding the horizon.  Escaping to North Somerset recently, this conversation which took place at altitude some time ago returned to me - I derive enormous comfort when I can see a vast expanse of sky.  Standing beneath it reminds me of my relative insignificance, and this realisation brings with it such reassurance - all is well. 
Having admired a plethora of hot air balloons on the way down, as we drove back to London (almost via Birmingham, as I rather un-mindfully followed the M5 further than the SatNav would have advised, had I switched it on!) a colleague revealed a favourite pastime of her own - kite flying.  She described the tremendously liberating sense she connects with whilst flying kites (preferably, but not exclusively, on beaches) - grounded, but lifted.   

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

New year mid year

In spite of the weather, for me this time of year always holds a spring like quality.  There's something about fresh starts arising from my affinity with the academic calendar and the rhythm of the year within the year.  September has, for as long as I can remember, represented the beginning of a new year - albeit three quarters through the calendar year.  This year is no exception, and I have embarked upon a new programme of study necessitating pre course reading, discovering a previously unknown corner of London and meeting new colleagues in the classroom setting.
"As long as you live, keep learning how to live"
As an adult learner, groups today feel both exciting and still daunting.  First impressions, expectations, comparisons, assumptions.  I am looking forward to the year ahead, but am under no illusions.  I have the dates in my diary, I now have responsibilities - to myself, and to others.  With every new start comes a commitment to be realised.  And potential to be actualised.   

Saturday, 22 September 2012

A room with a view - or several

I imagine the September evening light to be something of a photographer's delight.  So I imagined yesterday whilst sitting in my therapy room, writing my notes whereupon I noticed the difference a floor makes.  Just a few stairs perhaps, but a very different view.  Viewpoints are important.  I was reminded of that this afternoon whilst beginning to re-think the different arguments on the aetiology of sexuality.  Essentialist (nature:  I was born this way), developmental (nurture:  something happened, cause and effect) and social constructionist:  does it matter anyway, and why it might.   
"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.
Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
Marcus Aurelius
As I sit opposite my client (or clients) we literally sit with opposing views.  Physically we have different perspectives on the world outside.  I face looking in one direction, and they may stare out on the other.  There is an overlap, and we may share some aspects of the vista.  But still there are things I can see, that they may not; and I am all too aware that their prospect does not resemble mine identically.  This is an important reality in therapy. 
I may be able to to imagine.  I can sometimes guess.  I may construe.  But these are my realities.  If truths, they are my truths.  Somehow, in the therapy room, there needs to be space for more than one.  Often, there may be several.
"Truth never penetrates an unwilling mind."
J. L. Borges
And breathe...  I feel quite at home already in my new room.  I hope my clients will also feel able to make themselves 'at home' in a space that may come to accommodate their truths, and in which we might unpack the stories we both hold, in order to uncover their origins, and evaluate their current values.  Therapy is itself a space to reflect.  The sunlight that currently floods through my windows reminds me that everything changes.   

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Making up for lost time

Friends come and go but to a few you should hold on...  She is one such friend.  I let go, but hopefully we might be able to move on from the rather lengthy interlude that our friendship has seen, and apparently survived.  I feel blessed to have had an opportunity to offer a sincere amend, but know all too well that words carry far less value than actions, and intend to now live my amend.  Time has passed, and we have both grown, but time will tell whether we can overcome the distance that has arisen in the gap. 
Friendship is precious though not always easy.  The best friendships are perhaps those that do weather a few storms, and whilst I wouldn't have chosen the particular variety of weather conditions ours has endured, the foundations have been exposed highlighting their strength and resilience.  We all of us have choices.  As adults, we have rights and inherent within those, responsibilities.  Today I recognise that to boast a friend is an enormous privilege.  Sure enough, we will tread on one another's toes from time to time.  We must now learn to dance again, though this time perhaps to a rather different tune. 
"A friend is one who knows you and likes you anyway"
Elbert Hubbard
"Friendship is a single soul growing in two bodies"


Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Carry on Climbing

My enthusiasm knows no bounds.  I found myself expressing interest in something before I had a clue what it is that I was committing myself to!  I'm in safe hands.  I know that.  I also know I can get off if I need to (or, if I find out half way up the incline that I haven't yet got the right cassette). 
How could I not join in?  It's a mission wholly inspired by Charlotte and her recovery, and all in aid of Breast Cancer Care.  Besides which, it will be fun.  I have limited experience of climbing, and can claim to be nothing but an amateur.  But I find a challenge alluring and determination is something of a middle name. 
This will be a challenge.  We will rise early, to meet at the Cafe from where we will set off and fire up our legs before reaching the two ascents.  My naivety amused me.  "Catford" I thought...  I couldn't call to mind any particularly sharp inclines.  YouTube set me straight. 
Indeed Yorks Hill is the site of the oldest continuing cycle race in the world.  And it boasts a super sharp gradient with an average of 12.5% and two beastly stretches of 25%.  We'll be tackling a second incline for good measure...  
I'm already praying for good weather and will be taking spin super seriously in the coming days and weeks in anticipation of the twin peak challenge on 14 October.  It will be brilliant whatever the weather as Charlotte will be getting back in the saddle.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

What's in a name?

A lot, actually.  Our name is often something we have little say over.  Expectant parents employ all sorts of strategies to arrive at a name that feels 'right', doing so very often before they've so much as met their infant.  Name books may be bought, family trees poured over, trends reviewed and friends consulted.  A short list is compiled.  The big day comes.  Waters break, labour concludes and baby arrives in the world...
...Moments later the presiding doctor makes a call that for many will be unproblematic.  As baby takes its first few breaths post partem, "Congratulations, you have a beautiful baby boy!"  Or... "what a gorgeous little girl!"  From hereon in, baby's gender is decided, and with it a future.  Whilst the baby palette is perhaps now broader than the traditional pink-for-a-girl and blue-for-a-boy, there remain countless assumptions and expectations made on the basis of gender. 
In the vast majority of cases gender is determined within moments.  An immediate external anatomical examination results in an instantaneous conclusion, without any cause for further enquiry.  The significance is not to be underestimated.  In the Western world, the gender binary is rarely explored, less still disputed.  And yet, for a small but significant population, it simply doesn't fit. 
I have had the privilege of working with several individuals for whom their gender identity has been the source of enormous discomfort, with consequent distress too commonly misunderstood, written off or minimised by so-called professionals whose ignorance and/or prejudice causes them to overlook the dysphoria which is an all too real reality for 3 people in every 100,000.  As a practitioner who specialises in working with gender and sexual diversity the biggest concern is the age gender variant individuals present for treatment.  The median average was found to be 42 years.  Few young people present, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of gender dysphoric adults report experiencing gender variance from a very early age.
Things are changing but for this invisible population change is desperately slow.  We have a long way to go yet.  Starting with the right to choose one's preferred name.  The red tape that exists presents gender variant individuals and those of us seeking to support them with tiresome obstacles.  I was simultaneously horrified and outraged to receive correspondence from a Gender Identity Clinic addressing my client using the incorrect name.  My na├»vety was shattered:  the letter was littered with the wrong pronoun.  It seems that even fellow professionals claiming to exist solely to meet the needs of those experiencing the dilemma of gender variant identity fall a long way short of sensitivity.  This shortfall does nothing but inspire me to work harder to bridge the gap between where we are, and where we need to be. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

We get better. Together.

I've been around a few days.  Recovery has taught me more than I can hope to retain.  I need to be regularly reminded.  What I know, and what I understand are two different things.  Knowledge alone isn't much use.  Wisdom is something else altogether.  If someone asked me what wisdom looked like, I wouldn't have a clue; but I know what it feels like.  Wisdom is practising the principles in all my affairs.
Including swimming.  Yesterday, I took the plunge and went along to a Club training session.  I dipped in to this a while ago, encouraged (indeed collected and taken to) by a friend whom has, I know, continued to attend.  Getting to the pool is something I needed to do for myself.  Whilst I have been happily doing my own thing, I have been itching to stretch myself, and step up to the challenge I knew a coach would present. 
It was touch and go.  As I stood on the side of a pool I've not been to before, I observed a Squad session and admired the exuberant energy the youngsters displayed.  I was in awe of their technical proficiency in all four strokes, and suddenly began to get cold (damp) feet.  If I ducked out now, no one would be any the wiser.  It's always hard turning up for the first time.  And yet this step is probably the most important.  The boys and girls emerged from the pool, each proudly sporting team kit, and matching hats.  I fumbled with my own, before taking a poolside shower, committing to whatever awaited me.
Along came Chris.  Self declared Iron Man.  South African (of course) and very interested to discover my interest in open water swimming.  He enquired as to the distances I'd swum, before announcing his own 4k feats of endurance.  My heart sank somewhat.  Particularly when he told me that the Tuesday session was as strongly focused on breast stroke as it is crawl.  I couldn't remember when I last impersonated a frog. 
It was time.  At half past eight, I went to introduce myself as the new girl.  It was suggested that I try the middle lane.  It was tough from the off, but I adjusted to the pace, and sustained it throughout the 60 minute session comprising a rigorous warm up, several set pieces and then a much welcome cool down.  My watch gave up before the session was up, but I reckon we did at least 2.5k in around 52 minutes.  My fellow lane dwellers were an able bunch who kept me on my toes (or whatever the aquatic equivalent might be), and above all made me feel very welcome.  I felt at home, and have resolved to return.  Together, we get better.    

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Seeing the light

In an ideal world, I'd live in a climate warm enough to swim outdoors all year round.  As it is, I live in South West London.  That being so, I have been spoilt.  The pool in which I train most often has a great amount of natural light, courtesy of the enormous glass roof.  It's a real joy.  It's almost as good as swimming in the open air.  A close second, and somewhat more practical for swimming 12 months of the year.  Besides which, it's single depth and has two ends (pools such as that to be found in Richmond's Old Deer Park, with a series of steps at the shallow end, whilst tempting to get into, prove hard to stay in for very long as turning is near impossible!)  I like my pool.  I also like exploring others.  As something of a pool nerd, I investigate swimming venues.  I subscribe to more than one online swimming magazine, read blogs written by fellow water babies, and dream of having my own pool. 

Until such time as my circumstances are radically altered enabling me to install an Endless Pool or similar, I will continue to journey around London and the South East in search of the perfect swimming arena.  In the meantime, I was caused to think about my preferred swimming conditions, and the significance of natural light in indoor pools.  My favourite pool of the year so far being the 50m haven I discovered at the Sports Village on Bath University's stunning campus was without much natural light, but was well lit.  The difference a few windows make is remarkable.  Whilst the days remain on the longer side, I value the choice of pool.  For winter training, the cosy womb like darkness may hold greater appeal. 

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A breath of fresh air

This is England.  Having a picnic on a village green, in front of a pond complete with ducks, geese (and a few mice) was a lovely, and somewhat unexpected treat this weekend.  Only a week ago, I schlepped to Glasgow and back, an exhausting if rewarding Saturday - the contrast struck me this afternoon.  I am so glad that my present work tends not to involve long distance travel.  Whilst Swiss Cottage has, at times, felt like the other end of the earth, the reality is that sitting on planes and trains is less than usual in my ordinary routine which does not often take me into airport lounges.  Thank goodness.  Walking through Terminal 5 late on Saturday night I realised how disorientating airports are.  One could be forgiven for having no clue as to the time of day, or the local climate, whilst in an environment that for me, felt utterly alien.  The glitz of Duty Free, and the overpriced food franchises lack appeal, but it is the air conditioning and vast expanse of artificially lit hall that I would find most challenging were this mode of travel a more regular feature of my itinerary.  A delicious picnic later, and I have renewed gratitude for my work, and where I do it.
"It is not easy to walk alone in the country without musing upon something."
Charles Dickens
"I roamed the countryside searching for answers
to things I did not understand."
Leonardo da Vinci


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Guys and Dolls - and Recovery for Both

The Cadogan Hall was an ideal destination during the Sunday downpour over the Bank Holiday weekend.  The RPO were accompanied by a fabulous cast lead by Ruthie Henshall for a brilliant production of Guys and Dolls which struck me as being both cute but still relevant, speaking to a variety of contemporary issues. 
The award winning show's plot was derived from several stories by Damon Runyon depicting the lives of gangsters, gamblers, and other characters of the New York underworld.  Having originally premiered on Broadway in 1950 it was an immediate hit and the original show ran for 1200 performances.  It was later adapted as a film starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra.   
The musical opens to transport the audience into the hustle and bustle of New York City where we meet three small-time gamblers who are arguing over which horse will win a big race.  Meanwhile, the band members of the Save-a-Soul Mission, led by their pious and beautiful Sergeant, call for sinners to 'follow the fold' and repent.  It's an unlikely combination from the outset. 
What the show still speaks to so clearly is the chaos that gambling entails.  Bets are placed on practically anything and the sky really is the limit as the deception escalates undermining relationships, whilst inflating hopes before shattering them.  Promises are made, and rarely kept.  It's a mad existence, with casualties aplenty.
We soon meet the glorious Miss Adelaide, who loves her man but hates his addiction.  She is stuck wanting and waiting for him to change, longing for him to honour their relationship by taking her down the aisle.  We see the physical side effects of their dysfunctional attachment, and she consults a medical book which confirms her psychosomatic symptoms. 
The plot implicitly contains many a recovery message.  Requiring or expecting anyone else to change is recipe for disaster.  Expectations are premeditated resentments.  Looking for commitment from an unavailable individual leads to great heartache. 
Miss Adelaide would most certainly qualify for a twelve step fellowship such as Al-Anon or Gam Anon (support groups for those affected by another person's drinking or gambling).  There she could discover the boundaries needed to preserve a relationship when one partner is in active addiction.  She would be introduced to the slogans of the recovery programs enabling her to prioritise herself and her needs, whilst detaching from the unmanageability surrounding the gambling.  She would gain awareness, and could then begin to the action necessary to insulate herself against the inevitable ups and downs of a life lived alongside someone else's addiction.  She would, above all, learn to accept that the only person she could hope to change, is herself. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

An experience worth travelling for

My work doesn't generally involve too much travel outside of London and the home counties.  I'd not previously flown for work.  I'd not been to Glasgow before this weekend.  I've still not really been to Glasgow.  I have however been to Pollok House.  The beautiful National Trust for Scotland property set in wonderful gardens and parkland made a fitting venue for the workshop I delivered on behalf of the charity Missing People on Saturday afternoon.  Working with the families of missing people is a privilege.  Meeting them and working face to face in a group setting is a particular privilege, and I left Glasgow on Saturday evening feeling both honoured and humbled by the events of my long day.  It was my first time meeting the individuals who participated and for many of them, the first time they had met another family affected by this harrowing issue.  Whilst their stories were often very different, the situations in which they found themselves and the thoughts they have been plagued by ever since, bore striking resemblances.  We worked with the similarities, and I invited them to take what they liked, and leave the rest.  I felt as though I took a great deal with me as I left - there were many learnings for myself and the rest of the team delivering what was the first ever Family Support Day forming an important component of our Pilot family support programme funded in part by the Big Lottery.  I was grateful for the opportunity to be of service to this most deserving population whom approached the mindfulness workshop with tremendous open mindedness and willingness.  Language barriers notwithstanding, even the Highland cattle were friendly...